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Judge is ready to play ball

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Presiding justice Laurence M. Greene -- otherwise known as Larry -- leaned back in his office chair, index fingers pressed against the bridge of his nose. That's what his acupuncturist told him to do when he felt a migraine coming on, and it did seem to help.

He'd endured a spate of migraines lately, and no wonder. The kind of strain he was under would make lesser men crack. Larry endured -- painfully.

It had all started with that phone call. No, no, it had all started with that trip to Vegas. No, no, it had really all started with the house remodel. To this day he did not know why he had let his wife talk him into a second story. Not only a second story, but a redo of half the downstairs and a new kitchen. Now he was up to his receding hairline in debt -- debt he had no idea how to pay off.

Enter Charlie Bonner. They'd struck up a friendship playing racquetball at Larry's downtown club. "You're under too much stress, fella," Charlie'd told him. "Come with me to Vegas for the weekend." OK, Larry thought -- some light gambling, maybe take in a show. What he hadn't planned on was a showgirl. Was it the drinks? Something Bonner slipped in his drinks? Whatever. His head had been like a puff of cotton that night -- light, airy, devoid of common sense.

Still, he'd hoped to put it all behind him -- until last week's phone call. Turns out Charlie was hooked up with one Vincent Palmieri, whose racketeering conviction Larry was reviewing under appeal. "Vinny's got a flash drive with video of your Vegas trip," a voice said. "He's going to expose it to the world. Unless, that is, you agree to help us."

"Give us a hand, we'll give you one," the man continued. The next day, a cashier's check for $50,000 arrived in his office mail, along with a note: "There's more where that came from." God help him, he'd cashed the check. How had he gotten to this point? How much further would he end up going?

Larry was reaching for his prescription pills when the phone rang.

"Judge Greene, it's Steve Lopez." That columnist, again. The guy always wanted to chat about some issue Larry knew he shouldn't discuss.

"Hey, Steve," Larry said, trying to sound as weary as he felt. "This isn't really a great time . . . "

"Just give me a second," Lopez said. "Aren't you reviewing a case of a guy named Palmieri?"

"Uh, yeah." Nausea furred Larry's throat. He pushed it down. "What's up?"

"I just got this call," Lopez said, and explained Carmen's story. Halfway through, Larry put the phone on mute and vomited into his trash can.

"So," Lopez said, wrapping up, "I know you can't talk details, but can you at least confirm that this dude is who she says he is? I'm supposed to meet her at Dodger Stadium at 5:30, but I'd like to know if this is legit."

Larry took a swig of water from the bottle on his desk. "Yes," he said, "it's legit."

"Great, Greene, thanks -- " But Larry had already hung up. He'd planned to stay late at the office, but now he decided the work could wait until the morning.

He pictured the Smith & Wesson in the glove compartment of his car, glad the gun was loaded.

Baseball games could always throw a guy a curveball.

Constance Sommer describes herself as "a stay-at-home mom and fiction writer, the fiction writing coming on a catch-as-catch-can basis."

Chapter 23

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