The satellite radio was playing soft jazz, a compromise. Lacy, the owner of the Prius and thus the radio, loathed rap almost as much as Hugo, her passenger, loathed contemporary country. They had failed to agree on sports talk, public radio, golden oldies, adult comedy, and the BBC, without getting near bluegrass, CNN, opera, or a hundred other stations. Out of frustration on her part and fatigue on his, they both threw in the towel early and settled on soft jazz. Soft, so Hugo’s deep and lengthy nap would not be disturbed. Soft, because Lacy didn’t care much for jazz either. It was another give-and-take of sorts, one of many that had sustained their teamwork over the years. He slept and she drove and both were content.
Before the Great Recession, the Board on Judicial Conduct had access to a small pool of state-owned Hondas, all with four doors and white paint and low mileage. With budget cuts, though, those disappeared. Lacy, Hugo, and countless other public employees in Florida were now expected to use their own vehicles for the state’s work, reimbursed at fifty cents a mile. Hugo, with four kids and a hefty mortgage, drove an ancient Bronco that could barely make it to the office, let alone a road trip. And so he slept.
Lacy enjoyed the quiet. She handled most of her cases alone, as did her colleagues. Deeper cuts had decimated the office, and the BJC was down to its last six investigators. Seven, in a state of twenty million people, with a thousand judges sitting in six hundred courtrooms and processing a half a million cases a year. Lacy was forever grateful that almost all judges were honest, hardworking people committed to justice and equality. Otherwise, she would have left long ago. The small number of bad apples kept her busy fifty hours a week.
She gently touched the signal switch and slowed on the exit ramp. When the car rolled to a stop, Hugo lurched forward as if wide awake and ready for the day. “Where are we?” he asked.
“Almost there. Twenty minutes. Time for you to roll to your right and snore at the window.”
“Sorry. Was I snoring?”
“You always snore, at least according to your wife.”
“Well, in my defense, I was walking the floor at three this morning with her latest child. I think it’s a girl. What’s her name?”
“Wife or daughter?”
The lovely and ever-pregnant Verna kept few secrets when it came to her husband. It was her calling to keep his ego in check and it was no small task. In another life, Hugo had been a football star in high school, then the top-rated signee in his class at Florida State, and the first freshman to crack the starting lineup. He’d been a tailback, both bruising and dazzling, for three and a half games anyway, until they carried him off on a stretcher with a jammed vertebra in his upper spine. He vowed to make a comeback. His mother said no. He graduated with honors and went to law school. His glory days were fading fast, but he would always carry some of the swagger possessed by all-Americans. He couldn’t help it.
“Twenty minutes, huh?” he grunted.
“Sure, or not. If you like, I’ll just leave you in the car with the motor running and you can sleep all day.”
He rolled to his right, closed his eyes, and said, “I want a new partner.”
“That’s an idea, but the problem is nobody else will have you.”
“And one with a bigger car.”
“It gets fifty miles a gallon.”
He grunted again, grew still, then twitched, jerked, mumbled, and sat straight up. He rubbed his eyes and said, “What are we listening to?”
“We had this conversation a long time ago, when we left Tallahassee, just as you were beginning to hibernate.”
“I offered to drive, as I recall.”
“Yes, with one eye open. It meant so much. How’s Pippin?”
“She cries a lot. Usually, and I say this from vast experience, when a newborn cries it’s for a reason. Food, water, diaper, momma—whatever. Not this one. She squawks for the hell of it. You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“If you’ll recall, I’ve actually walked the floors with Pippin on two occasions.”
“Yes, and God bless you. Can you come over tonight?”
“Anytime. She’s number four. You guys thought about birth control?”
“We are beginning to have that conversation. And now that we’re on the subject, how’s your sex life?”
“Sorry. My mistake.” At thirty-six Lacy was single and attractive, and her sex life was a rich source of whispered curiosity around the office.
They were going east toward the Atlantic Ocean. St. Augustine was eight miles ahead. Lacy finally turned off the radio when Hugo asked, “And you’ve been here before?”
“Yes, a few years back. Then boyfriend and I spent a week on the beach in a friend’s condo.”
“A lot of sex?”