Obrigado (or ‘thank you’ in Portuguese)

2008

“What’s he getting locked up for?”

“That can wait,” the driver of the Porsche convertible replies, a forty-something lawyer with a belly that screams he was not in need of the fancy lunch he just shelled out for, the type of meal I can no longer afford on my own dime.

“I mean if you’re asking me to represent this guy, I’d like to—“

“All in due time,” Lawyer Man says, squaring his hands at ten and two.

“When’s that?”

“After he’s vetted you. Made sure you’re the right fit,” Lawyer Man says, face tilted up to the sun as if life couldn’t get any better than this.

I plaster on a smile to keep things upbeat. “I mean, it can’t be that bad if he’s only getting time in the county jail. The really bad guys get prison. At least most of mine do.”

Lawyer Man smirks. “That’s because you only get the guilty ones.”

“So this guy’s not guilty? I thought you said he’s taking a plea.”

Lawyer Man shrugs. “He is. But it’s a no contest plea.”

I flop back into the buttery leather seat. “Right. What you big time sharks call a ‘plea of convenience.’ What a crock,” I say and we both laugh.

“So let me get this straight, this guy, whatever his name is. And what is his name, by the way?”

Lawyer Man waves me off.

I turn my gaze to a motorcyclist pulling a wheelie in the next lane. “On the phone you said he wants to retain me because I’m fluent in Portuguese?”

Lawyer Man switches back and forth between lanes like a race car driver. “You’re only lawyer in town that does, as far as we know. At least one who’s…” He lets the thought drop. “He needs someone with business smarts to keep his Brazilian associates happy while he’s inside. Someone who’s worked in Brazil, knows the language, the culture, all that shit.” He shoots me a sideways glance, the type of look traveling salesmen give lonely women in hotel bars.

“Someone like you,” he says, pulling a sudden right turn across traffic to exit the Interstate. “I bet you could even groove to a mean bossa nova, if you had to.”

He laughs. I don’t this time.

“What type of business does he have—”

Lawyer Man lifts an index finger. “Like I said, all will be revealed in due time. He’s not in the habit of sharing secrets before he knows he can trust you.”

Until attorney-client privilege kicks in.

I bite back ‘what the fuck have I gotten myself into this time’ unease rising in my gullet.

“Something like that,” Lawyer Man replies.

“Just so we’re clear, he wants to pay me ten grand a month to make sure his Brazilian business, whatever that may be, keeps running smoothly?” I say, trying to keep my tone level.

“That and visit him in an attorney room in the jail every day so he’s not stuck in his cell 24/7. Sweet deal, right?”

As if by magic, the gates of the Palm Beach County executive airfield part on our approach. We drive onto the runway and park beside a private jet, its sleek body glinting like a cartoon rocket ship ready for take-off to another dimension.

A staircase unfurls from the fuselage like a tongue and a tall man descends. His deeply tanned face is wrinkled in a way which, but for the jet and two thousand dollar suit, would project a life of hard labor under an unforgiving sun, but which, with such accoutrements, dog whistles wealth and status.

Tanned Man signals for Lawyer Man to introduce me which Lawyer Man does before retreating to the Porsche for a smoke.

Tanned Man leads me inside an empty terminal and signals for me to sit, which I do. He does too, too close for my liking, his gaze never leaving mine, as if everything he needs to know will be made visible by virtue of the power of his unremitting stare. Tanned Man has gambler’s eyes, flat and still, designed to disguise.

Falamos em Porugues,” he says, his accent phrase book bad, an awkward staccato with none of the sultry swing of the real thing.

Isso sera legal,” I say, meaning ‘that would be nice.’

As I proceed, in Portuguese, asking all the questions I asked Lawyer Man, Tanned Man’s eyes cut to my wedding band and back. I detect the slightest of quivers in his stare which, being the poker player I am, I take as his tell for a bad hand.

Without another word, not even a good-bye in his pidgin Portuguese, he stands and walks back out to his plane, heatwaves from the tarmac lapping up around him. And then he disappears. Staircase yanked up like a draw bridge. Rocket ship in flight.

“Sorry, but he said your Portuguese just wasn’t good enough,” Lawyer Man says as the gates clank shut behind the Porsche and my heart sinks lower than my bank balance.

*     *     *

2019

Financier facing sex trafficking charges found dead in his cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.

Under the CNN headline is a mugshot. The wrinkles are more entrenched now, the tan a memory. But the eyes are still rolling the dice.

I smile.
Obrigado, Mr. Epstein. For unanswered prayers.”

 

By Mandy Miller

 

 

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