Grace went to the kitchen to retrieve her phone. She had a lawyer in mind, one who had become a regular at her restaurant, Big Frank's, an oceanfront pizzeria Grace had inherited from Arthur after his death. Grace wasn't certain if Greg Navarro, attorney-at-law, would answer her call, what fee he'd charge, or if he'd even want to take the case. She also wasn't at all sure if he was as good as he presented himself to be; however she liked him a great deal. Which, given how they'd met, a fender bender over a month ago, could easily have gone the other way.
* * *
Grace had been driving in Vinnin Square, a highly congested area near the Swampscott Mall, when she felt a sharp jolt from behind. She heard a loud crunch before her seatbelt locked as she lurched forward. She was shocked at first, wondering what had happened, but a check in her rearview mirror revealed a blue car that was basically conjoined to her bumper. She pulled into a nearby Dunkin Donuts parking lot to escape traffic, and the blue car followed. A survey of her Mini Cooper—which had a hundred and fifteen thousand miles on it and was nearly on its last axle—revealed a large dent in the bumper. Minimal damage aside, Grace was grateful not to be at fault, or else she'd have to pay the hefty deductible. Her small car fit the size of her life as well as her budget. Everything had shrunk in the wake of Arthur's sudden passing.
The man who'd struck her with his Ford Focus had the stocky build of a former jock, with sandy brown hair kept neatly trimmed above his ears. He was dressed nicely in a blue suit and white oxford shirt, unbuttoned at the top, no tie. His brown eyes brimmed with embarrassment. Below a broad forehead his eyebrows stayed noticeably arched, as though he were still surprised he'd struck her vehicle. Soon Grace realized it was a feature of his appearance and nothing more, as if he were perpetually questioning everything.
After making sure Grace was physically unharmed, he surveyed the damage. "I was on my way to meet a client at a restaurant," the man said by way of explanation."Took a wrong turn, went to check Waze, and...bam!" He smacked his hands together to reenact the impact. "Serves me right for taking my eyes off the road." He shook his head in utter dismay, clearly still upset with himself.
"I'm just glad you're okay."
They exchanged insurance information, which is how Grace learned his name.
"I'm really sorry about this," Greg Navarro said, apologizing for the third time."Such a novice move. I never get into accidents. Look, if you're ever in need of a lawyer—defense, personal injury, family, wills, estate—just give me a call. I have a practice here on the North Shore. I'll cut you a deal on my usual rate to make it up to you." He gave her his card, on which he had his mobile number listed.
* * *
Grace had hoped and prayed she wouldn't need a criminal defense attorney for Penny ever again. Once was enough. In the kitchen catch-all drawer, where she kept a business card holder, was the card of the attorney Arthur had hired when Penny and her friend Maria Descenza got arrested in ninth grade. Penny had been doing wonderfully well in the years since that awful incident, no trouble with the law, and Grace felt confident she had outgrown that disturbing behavior. Everyone, nobody more so than Grace, was shocked that girls so young could face such serious criminal charges for using words, not weapons, but the law was quite clear: if you threaten somebody's life, you will be arrested.
While Penny was complicit, a willing participant in the crime, Grace had no doubt Maria—or Firebug Maria as she was known around town thanks to a childhood habit of setting small fires, a nickname that carried over into her teen years—manipulated her daughter into writing those death threats.
The DA eventually agreed to drop the charges and seal Penny's record, but that privacy extended to schools and employers only. These detectives certainly had access to the case file, so they knew everything about her daughter's criminal history.
The descriptions of murder and mayhem, the horrible, dark violent fantasies that the girls secretly shared with each other included a "hit list" of targets—a list that Grace had no doubt was about to come back to haunt her daughter with a vengeance.
Penny's psychiatrist back then had played a critical role in the plea deal her daughter was given—far more so than the lawyer they'd hired, who Grace didn't like one bit. She found him unresponsive, sometimes taking days to get back to her with a simple answer. There was a reason she had deleted his contact information from her iPhone—and even Arthur concurred he was overly dismissive of their concerns.