LAST CHANCE LASSITER
“If your cause is just, no case is impossible.” – Jake Lassiter
In this gripping prequel to the best-selling Jake Lassiter series, things aren’t going well for Jake. First he loses his job at a deep-carpet law firm and moves into a dumpy office in a Miami Beach parking garage. Then his lawyer-girlfriend dumps him for not being “partnership material.” To make things even worse, he’s facing disbarment after punching out his own client.
With his personal life in chaos, Jake must fight overwhelming odds to represent Cadillac Johnson, an aging rhythm and blues musician who claims his greatest song was stolen by a top-of-the-charts hip-hop artist.
Will Jake Lassiter’s own iconoclastic rules spell his downfall?
Last Chance Lassiter takes readers back into his past and answers many questions about the backstory of the linebacker-turned-lawyer. Why did he leave a major law firm to go it alone? How did he develop the unique set of rules he lives by? And will those rules cause more harm than good?
Fans of the Jake Lassiter series will relish the chance to get to know a younger Jake and fill in the gaps in his rocky past.
Read an Excerpt
* * *
"The law is some tricky shit, isn't it?"
–Geena Davis in "Thelma and Louise"
The view from the 53rd floor of Southeast Financial Center took in the sparkling turquoise water of Biscayne Bay, the shimmering alabaster buildings of Miami Beach...and black-as-death vultures, which glided in the updrafts just outside my floor-to-ceiling windows.
A man with a literary bent might find some clever symbolism in vultures hovering outside a law office. Carnivores inside and out, that sort of thing. But I am not a man given to symbolism or poetry or allegory. I am an ex-linebacker, an ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things, trying to make an honest day's pay in the greedy and sleazy world of big-time lawyering.
My name is Jake Lassiter.
I was standing at my office window, watching the ugly birds as the drawbridge cranked skyward on the MacArthur Causeway, making several hundred commuters late for work, so that one rich dude could sail north along the shoreline without the inconvenience of a detour into open ocean waters. Maybe there was some symbolism in that, too. Who knows? They don't pay me to plumb deep thoughts. Me, I'm just paid to win.
Back to that Causeway. Years later, the city padres would stop dipping into the till long enough to re-construct the damn thing and eliminate the drawbridge, but this was in my early years as a lawyer. In those days, we still had Eastern Air Lines, The Miami News, and a few words of English were still spoken on Flagler Street downtown. Eso ya no existe, mi amigo. "You set the firm record," said a female voice behind me.
"Yardage in a touch football game?" I replied.
"Billable hours!" It was Cecilia (Cece) Santiago, my secretary, as we still called them in those days. She had not yet become an "assistant," and I had not yet seen my first gray hair. "Lowest ever recorded in firm history. All the other associates are talking about it."
"Those weenies lie on their time sheets. I don't."
"Jerry Pillstein is betting you'll be fired."
"The worm who billed 27 hours in one day?"
"He flew from Miami to L.A., picked up three hours on the time change and worked round the clock."
"Mr. Krippendorf gave him a plaque."
"If I wanted a plaque, I'd join the Kiwanis."
"Mr. K told you the firm motto, right?"
I remembered my interview with Lyle Krippendorf, senior partner of the firm. A short, rotund sausage of a man jammed into a silk Italian suit.
"In the law, we eat what we kill," Krippendorf had said, stuffing his face with bloody tenderloin smeared in bearnaise. "You gotta bill 250 hours a month, minimum, or you go on probation, kid."
I'd wanted to give him a forearm shiver, but I needed the work and took the job.
Billing my time. Documenting every breath I took. Leasing out my life by the quarter hour.
* * *
A few minutes after Cece breezed out of my office, I was sitting at my desk, thumbing through the files I'd been assigned. There was the fashion model, thin as a Q-Tip, who wanted me to sue Starbucks for "poisoning" her Frappuccino by using whole milk instead of skim. There was a nasty divorce where the wife, our client, had scissored off the left sleeve of every one of her husband's sixty–eight custom-made suits and sports jackets. And there was a guy who couldn't believe the City of Coral Gables wouldn't let him keep his 18-foot long Burmese python in the backyard, after it swallowed whole the neighbor's French poodle.
Three yawners. "Boring" was not a boring enough word to convey my lack of emotional involvement in my cases. So what did I want? What would rev my motor?
A cause that's just, a client I like, and a check that didn't bounce. In my short time as a lawyer, I'd seldom found all three in the same case.
My door flew open and Kim Coates, an attorney-in-a-hurry, rushed inside. She shot an unappreciative gaze at my Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote posters, which along with photos of sharks and sports memorabilia, completed my interior decorating.
"Lunch?" she asked, as if forming an entire sentence would take her away from billing enormous amounts of time at outrageous hourly rates. Kim was 32 years old, a tidy brunette with an upturned nose and torso by Jane Fonda. Technically, she was senior to me in the firm by a couple years, which might explain why she insisted on the top position during the hot and sweaty nights we'd spent together at my place or hers.
"Sure thing." I regretted the extra syllable as a waste of her time.
"Versailles for Cuban sandwiches."
"Strolling guitarists freak me out," she said, "and it's too noisy to work."
"Work? I thought we were eating."
"Mr. K wants us to discuss the credit card class action litigation. We can each bill 90 minutes, including travel time, if we talk business in the car."
"Joe's Stone Crab," I suggested.
"Only if we can run the cost through to the client."
"Maybe we should forget lunch and plan a leisurely dinner."
"I'm working late. How about takeout Thai?"
"Your place or mine?"
"Sorry, Jake. I've got an 8 a.m. depo in Palm Beach and need my sleep."
I considered whether to complain about our not spending enough time together, but it seemed too wimpy. We'd been sleeping together – though not often – whenever Kim could find a time slot not required for a hearing, depo, or Pilates class.
Every relationship is a competition between personal autonomy and inter-connectedness. Historically, it's the guy who refuses to compromise, to give up his solitude, or man cave, or drinking buddies. But times have changed. Hard-charging career women like Kim Coates are frequently unwilling to cut back work time for the sweet promise of companionship, cuddling, and multiple orgasms.
A knock-knock sounded on the open door, as Cece poked her head into the office. "No lunch for you, jefe. Mr. K. has a new client for you to interview."
"As long as it's not another divorce."
"Divorce plus spousal abuse. Wife got the stuffing beat out of her."
"Tell me I'm repping her."
"No luck, jefe. You for the puncher."
Cece was right. This was worse. You can pick your friends. You can pick mangoes from blooming trees. But an associate in a law firm cannot pick his clients.
* * *
James Farrell was thirty-five and tennis fit. He wore a tailored tan suit, blue shirt and yellow tie. His job had something to do with real estate development, but in Miami, that could mean anything from building shopping centers to being a bag man for the zoning department. He seemed to be staring at the leaping marlins on my multi-colored Hawaiian shirt. Maybe a dark suit would instill more confidence, but I always thought the charcoal gray look made lawyers seem like undertakers. I kept a couple ties and a white shirt hanging behind my office door for trips to the courthouse. Otherwise, I was a habitual offender, daily violating the Krippendorf and Associates dress code. Just as I violated the "Wall Decoration Decree," proclaiming that the art committee must approve everything posted on law firm property. I'd already received a stern memo warning me to take down the bloody photos of sharks feeding, as inappropriately suggestive.
I didn't nail my law school diploma to Lyle Krippendorf's textured walls. There were no honors attached to my University of Miami parchment, and it took me an extra year to get though the night division, where I graduated in what I like to call the top half of the bottom third of my class. The diploma covers a crack in the plaster above a toilet at home and forces me to contemplate the divide between law and justice several times each day.
My framed cartoon character posters – Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe le Pew, Bugs Bunny – turned Krippendorf's cheeks scarlet whenever he strolled into my office. His eyes would keep flicking toward the walls while he warned me to keep my hours up and reminded me about the next game in the Lawyer's Flag Football League. On those occasions, it was impossible not to believe that I'd been hired for my ability on the football field as much as for my legal acumen.
I said hello to my new client and we shook hands, the guy trying to impress me with his grip. I've had several fingers broken in my playing days, including once when my knuckles got stuck inside a quarterback's face mask. To be honest, I had jammed my hand through the mask in a fruitless effort to either remove the QB's head from his shoulders, or failing that, to gouge out his eyes. Yeah, I got penalized for unnecessary roughness, surely a non-sequitur where football is concerned.
So, Farrell's grip didn't bother me, though my knuckles crickety-cracked with the sound of a bowling ball scattering pins.
"You gonna keep that bitch from getting my money?" Farrell started out.
"Let's talk about the criminal case first."
"Domestic battery and spousal abuse. It's bullshit."
I thumbed through the skinny file on my desk. "Your wife went to the E.R. with lacerations and contusions"
"She slipped and fell in the bathroom."
I flipped another page. "Third trip to the hospital. So many clumsy wives these days."
"I got a doctor who'll swear the bruises came from falling on the tile floor."
"But is it true?"
"Does it matter?"
"To me, it does."
The woman who raised me, Granny Lassiter, told me that only gutter snipes and trailer park lowlifes hit their women. "A Lassiter man, no matter how drunk or angry, never lays a hand on a woman that don't want to be touched."
Farrell gave me a long, hard look. "It just occurred to me. Jake Lassiter, right?"
He shot a look toward the credenza where an autographed football bore Coach Shula's signature. He had written something about admiring my "pluck." Good word when adjectives like "athletic" and "skillful" would be blatant exaggerations.
"You used to play for the Dolphins," Farrell said.
"Not very long and not very well, but yeah."
"You're 'Wrong Way Lassiter!'"
Oh, shit. That again.
"I was there the day you scored a touchdown for the wrong team."
"Scored a safety," I corrected him.
"Right. And the Dolphins lost by a point to the Jets. Am I right?"
Yeah, the bastard was right. My playing time came on the suicide squad, the kickoff team. At the start of the second half of that long-ago game, I collided head-on with the returner. The ball popped out, I scooped it up, got turned around, and carried the ball into the wrong end zone where I triumphantly hurled it into the stands. A grinning monkey of a man humiliating himself in front of a national television audience.
I could blame the snow and fog at the old Shea Stadium. I could blame the concussion I suffered on the tackle. But lately, I've just taken personal responsibility, which is more than my clients ever do. I played as hard as I could, made two decent plays – the jarring tackle, the fumble recovery – then screwed up. Still, there is one gnawing fact that has eaten away at me all these years.
"Thing is," I said to Farrell, "the replay showed my knee was down by contact when I recovered the ball. The play should have been blown dead. Our ball. We win by a point instead of losing by one."
"A bad ruling." He gave me a sly little grin, then stood up and paced around my office. "I can relate."
"Life's not fair. You make one boneheaded play in your career, that's all anybody remembers. Same thing with my deal if I get convicted of this bullshit. Basically, I'm a good guy."
"A prince," I said, agreeably.
He spent a moment admiring my rack of baseball bats, then pulled one from its slot. The bat was a gift from a client in lieu of a fee. The client, a sports memorabilia dealer, claimed the bat was used by Edgar Renteria of the Marlins to drive in the winning run in the seventh game of the 1997 World Series. Indeed, Renteria's signature appeared on the bat. But I sensed neither the signature nor the provenance was real. My client, after all, made most of his money engaged in what the federal government considers mail fraud.
Clients are like that. If they'll cheat their customers, they're just as likely to lie to their lawyers.
"You don't want to see me take a fall because of one slip-up," Farrell continued.
"Except in my case, the ref blew the call. In your case, the drift I'm getting is that you beat up your wife."
He took a practice swing with the bat. "I'll swear under oath that I never touched her."
"In my experience, honest people don't need to put their hand on a Bible to tell the truth, and with dishonest people, it makes no difference." I slipped Farrell's booking photo out of the file. "When you were arrested, your face had fingernail scratches, and the knuckles of your right hand were raw."
"Whose side are you on, Lassiter? I told you I got a doctor who'll back me up."
"I know doctors who'll swear a paraplegic can win the decathlon."
"So what's you're your strategy? What's your legal advice?"
"Plead guilty to a lesser offense. Simple assault, maybe. Get probation and some counseling."
"And give that bitch ammo for the divorce? Fuck that."
I didn't like Farrell the moment I saw him, and my opinion hadn't changed for the better. I glanced out the windows. Three black vultures were parasailing in the updrafts. Just floating there without any apparent effort. Lucky birds.
"What is it you're not telling me, Farrell?"
Another practice swing. Strike two. "You're so smart, you figure it out."
It only took a second. "You can't plead because you're got a prior. No probation for you."
He shrugged. "Ex-girlfriend claimed I beat her up. I never should have pleaded to that one."
Damn clients. Always keeping secrets. "Guys who hit women," I told him, "they're scum-sucking bottom feeders."
"Watch it, pal."
"They've got doubts about who they are, what they're made of."
"I don't care if you're a former jock. I know karate."
"That what you used on your wife?"
"Warning you, Lassiter."
"Those doubts, I mentioned. It's about their manhood."
"You calling me a...?"
"Got nothing to do with your sexual leanings. But you know what you are? A coward. A pussy who pretends to be a tiger."
That did it. He leapt from his chair and herky-jerked around my desk. I got to my feet and he stopped, the baseball bat in his right hand. If he swung at my head, I'd duck and plow a right hook into his gut. Once he threw up on my desk, I'd rub his face in it.
He cocked the bat, waggled it back and forth.
"Face it Farrell, you don't have the balls to do it."
Just then, the son-of-a-bitch uncorked a swing, aimed at my head.
To purchase LAST CHANCE LASSITER, please visit Amazon.
Reviews For LAST CHANCE LASSITER
"Take John Grisham's courtroom thrills, add a dash of James Patterson's action and a pinch of Harlan Coben's humanity...and you've got Last Chance Lassiter”– Amazon.com
"Since the death of Robert B. Parker, I've been looking for another author that would (1) provide a protagonist with wit, humor and bravado and (2) be capable of pumping out engaging novels for the pleasure of his readers. Thanks to both the author, Paul Levine, for writing such an engaging story, and to my friend who recommended "Last Chance Lassiter" to me. This book is a winner." -- Amazon.com
"I love all the Jake Lassiter books. The characters are varied and all are memorable. I hope to finish them all and have also just started the Solomon Series. Paul Levine is a great writer!" --Amazon.com