The Widow Vance
by Henry Simpson
Excerpt from "Golden Girl," (Book 7 of the Joe Costa Series)
Monday morning, a well-dressed, gray-haired woman in her mid-seventies knocked on my open office door and stuck her head in. “Are you Mr. Castro?”
“No, ma’am,” I said. “The sign on the door says Costa. May I help you?”
“You’re the lawyer?”
“Yes, ma’am. And this is my law office.”
Without further ado, she entered my office, sat on the chair facing me, set her handbag on my desk, and stared at me. I had the feeling I was being judged by a person of wealth and social significance.
“And you are . . .” I said.
“Mrs. Vance,” she said.
“Good morning, Mrs. Vance. And how may I . . .”
“We have the same lawyer.”
“We being . . .”
“Me and June Shore, of course. Who else?”
“I have no idea. But now that you’ve answered that, how may I . . .”
“How many times must you . . . oh, never mind. She mentioned you to me, said you’re helping her chase down that worthless ex-husband of hers and find out what happened to the investments he got her into.”
“I can’t discuss that with you, Mrs. Vance.”
“I’m not trying to pry into that, but I’m having the same problem she is. Well, sort of, though my investment is smaller.” She scratched her chin. “I think. Um, how much is hers?” She smiled pleasantly.
“Mrs. Vance, please. I can’t discuss that with you.”
“Well, all right. You lawyers. I don’t trust any of you, making everything so complicated, and then it’s secret.”
“Mrs. Vance . . . is there anything else? Because if not, I’d like to get on with my workday.”
She shook her head. “See, the thing is, I’ve lost confidence in Harry.”
“My lawyer. I already told you that. And trust. That, too.”
“You have lost confidence and trust in your lawyer whose name is Harry?”
“Yes. That’s what I just said. Haven’t you been listening?”
“As hard as I can, Mrs. Vance. Perhaps something is wrong with the acoustics in my office. It’s an old building.”
Mrs. Vance put her nose in the air and sniffed. “I know that. It was built in 1924, shortly after the earthquake. I’m on the local Board of Historic Architecture.” She slapped my desktop. “What I want to know is, what are you going to do about it?”
“About what—the bad acoustics?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mr. Castro. How did you ever become a lawyer? Did you earn your law degree in night school?”
“Please stop, Mrs. Vance. You never said why you came here to see me. What do you want?”
“Help me, in the same way you’re helping Miss Shore.”
“Help you how?”
“By doing what you’re doing for her.” She scratched her nose. “I think. But I’m not quite sure what that is. That’s why I asked. What exactly are you doing for Miss Shore?”
“I told you, I can’t discuss that with you. Here’s a suggestion. If you obtain Miss Shore’s permission to discuss my work for her, and hire me to do the same for you, make an appointment for both of you to meet with me at the same time, and we may be able to work something out.”
“Do you expect me to pay you for answering a few simple questions?”
“I’m a lawyer, Mrs. Vance. I don’t work for free. If you’re indigent, and cannot afford to hire a lawyer, visit the Free Legal Counseling Clinic in Isla Vista.”
“Oh, my. You are completely and utterly useless. It is obvious to me that I am wasting my valuable time talking to you when you don’t listen to anything I say. I will tell Miss Shore next time I see her that she has hired an incompetent to help her and she should fire you.” She stood up and walked to my doorway, then turned. “And I hope that she does. Good day, Mr. Castro.”
And she was gone.
I visited June on Wednesday evening. After getting through the gate and dodging the slobbering canines, I met with June in her living room.
“Before I begin,” I said, I must ask you a question.”
“I’m all ears,” June said. “Ask me anything, but not about science or politics.”
“Do you know a woman named Vance?”
“Oh, my, yes. Olivia Vance. She’s my neighbor, lives down the road. The sweetest old woman I’ve ever known. She drops by every Saturday afternoon for tea. Do you have any idea who she is?”
“Only that she’s wealthy and has bad manners.”
“She’s a grand lady, and a widow. Her late husband was a retired general officer in the U.S. Air Force. Unfortunately, he blew the top of his head off in their garden a few years back. Olivia found him, sitting there in an Adirondack chair. She described the scene to me in all its gory details.”
“Mrs. Vance dropped by my office on Monday, and after meeting her, I can understand why the General decided to kill himself.”
“Oh, my, Joe. What an awful thing to say.”
“She said she knew you, and you two have the same lawyer. I assume that’s Harry Bostic.”
“Yes, Joe, I mentioned that to her last Saturday afternoon at tea, along with I’d hired you to track down Sammy.”
“I told you not to discuss that with anyone.”
“Oh, I guess you did. I forgot. I’m sorry, Joe. I promise, I’ll never do it again. Don’t judge her too harshly. She’s a lonely widow.”
“Why not?” I said. “She was harsh with me and asked what exactly I was doing for you about the dividend situation.”
June chuckled. “Did she hurt your feelings?”
“When I told her I couldn’t discuss what I was doing for you, she went upper class snooty, questioned my law credentials, said I was completely, utterly useless, and that she’d tell you to fire me.”
June laughed. “She’s got a temper. I admire her for it.”
In due course, I found June’s missing husband and discovered he had been conned to invest money in a bogus mutual fund by Harry Bostic. Bostic was eventually charged with financial crimes and out on bail awaiting trial. He had been speaking publicly and giving interviews to reporters, not keeping a low profile. He seemed to be plenty accessible. I wondered if he was back at work. Since his office was around the corner from mine, I decided to check and see. Behold, the lights were on inside, but his security man was not in sight. No one appeared to be guarding the lord of the manor. What the hell, I thought. I’ll drop in on him, see what’s on his mind, and annoy him a little.
I walked to the entrance, opened the door, and went inside, pausing on the thick carpet to admire the unguarded reception area with its oak-paneling and oil paintings of landscapes. Bostic’s door was open for a change and, as I paused in the doorway, I could see the man himself sitting behind his desk, in tailored black suit and Yale necktie. Fountain pen in hand, he appeared to be reading and annotating legal papers.
I stuck my head in his door. “Good morning, Harry,” I said in an upbeat voice. “How ya doin’ today?”
He flinched slightly, dropped his pen, and looked up at me.
I entered his office and stood there, about six feet away, looking down at him.
Bostic’s face turned the color of fresh strawberries. “Get out of here!”
“Where’s your security, Harry?”
“None of your business. I told you to get out of here. You’re on private property. Get out!” His voice was filled with rage.
He opened a drawer, pulled a revolver out of his desk, and pointed it at me. That was unexpected, and quite a shock.
I raised my hands and backed away. “I’m unarmed, Harry.”
Bostic cocked his revolver with a click. “Raise your jacket!”
Backing away, I inched it up slowly, like a striptease dancer exposing her goodies.
Bostic smiled, then fired, and I felt plaster rain on the back of my neck. I backed out of there, turned, and ran, hearing Bostic’s caustic laughter behind me.
He had gone bonkers.
As I was getting into my car, I spotted Mrs. Vance walking briskly along the sidewalk as if being driven from behind by demons. She made a sudden right turn onto the cobbled pathway to Bostic’s office. Briefly, I wondered if I should tell her it was dangerous to go there because he had gone nuts, maybe enough off sanity’s highway to do her harm.
What was wrong with me?
I got out of my car and chased after her, but by the time I reached the entrance, she had already gone through it and into Bostic’s office and, a moment later, a gunshot rang out.
I rushed to his open door, looked inside, and there stood little Mrs. Vance holding an old M1911 Colt 45 semi-automatic pistol, still pointed at Bostic, who was lying halfway back in his chair with the top of his head missing, transformed into a Jackson Pollock splatter in red against the wall behind him. His pistol lay on his desk.
Mrs. Vance appeared stunned, and was silent except for a low murmur. I took out a handkerchief, wrapped it around the Colt 45 in her hand, and put it into the handbag hanging on her shoulder.
She looked at me. “What are you doing with my handbag?” she said.
“Putting your gun in a safer place,” I said. “Do you remember me?”
She blinked. “Yes, of course. You’re that awful lawyer June raves about.”
“You shot him.”
“He stole my life savings and my life, what little’s left of it. I don’t know how I’ll live.”
“Do you want to go to prison?”
“Why not? A roof over my head, free medical care and food. They must treat old people with kindness.”
Everyone seemed to be going nuts.
“It’s not like that, Olivia. You don’t want to go to prison.”
“Can you help me?”
“Do you want to hire me as your lawyer?”
I pointed to Bostic’s sofa. “Sit down and listen carefully.”
She sat, looking up at me attentively.
“You’re in shock. When the police arrive, don’t say anything. Let me do the talking.”
“I’m in shock.” She nodded obediently. “You do the talking.” The general’s wife took orders.
I called 911 on my cellphone, reported a shooting, and gave the address.
By now, people were gathering outside in the yard and a few had entered the reception area. I chased reception crashers out and stood at the door, waiting for the cops to arrive. In minutes, two blue uniforms came to the entrance and I opened the door for them. Both recognized me.
“What happened here, Mr. Costa?” asked the one with corporal stripes.
I led them to Bostic’s office and pointed inside. “The man at the desk is Harry Bostic. This is his office. That lady on the sofa is Olivia Vance, one of his clients. She entered his office, and was standing by the door. Mr. Bostic threatened her with that gun on the desk, took a shot at her and missed, and his bullet struck the wall by the door.” I pointed to the bullet hole in the plaster.
The cops checked the bullet hole.
“Who shot Bostic?” said the corporal.
“Mrs. Vance shot him in self-defense,” I said.
“That little old lady over there shot him?”
“Yes, she did.”
“An M1911 Colt 45.”
“Where is it?”
“In Mrs. Vance’s handbag.”
The corporal went over to Mrs. Vance, leaned down, held out his hands, and said, “May I see your handbag, Mrs. Vance?”
Mrs. Vance looked at me.
She offered her handbag to the corporal.
I said, “She’s still in shock, gentlemen.”
The corporal looked inside the handbag. “That’s a big gun for a petite woman.”
“It belonged to her husband,” I said. “He was an Air Force officer.”
“Why was she carrying it?”
“For protection, of course. She’s a helpless old woman.”
The corporal smirked. “Not so helpless, I’d say. She blew his head off.”
Mrs. Vance looked at me with alarm.
I winked at her.
“We’ll have to take her in and get a statement,” the corporal said.
“Fine. She asked me to act as her lawyer. I’ll accompany her, and I’ll need some time alone with her before you question her.”