"And Lot 21 goes to you, Sydney," Tuck Stevens closes the ledger having divvied up the week's assignments between Sydney Wingate, Astrid Kimball and himself. He picks up a manila folder and flips through the sheets as he sits back and sighs. "Might as well get your feet wet."
Sydney fumes, all 110 pounds on her slight frame. She doesn't look frail at all, however. Her brunette hair is fixed in a short, slim pageboy-an easy style for a woman who has little time to spend on frivolous female affectations. She takes pains to project an efficient and persuasive image, wearing glasses rather than contacts, just to be taken more seriously. And her clothes are sedate and tailored, befitting her position in the judge advocate's office.
Regardless of her attempts to present a professional persona, however, she exudes a cool, confident femininity with every breath. She is lush, built like a goddess, with gleaming emerald eyes and a deep, sexy voice. At the moment, however, all femininity and professionalism are pushed aside. "I don't want to 'get my feet wet', Tuck. You knew when you hired me that I wanted no part of these cases."
"Yes, and times change," he intones plainly. Tuck is one of the good ol' boys, easygoing, casual in his dress and manner, but when it comes to decisions, once made, they are written in stone. This one is no different and Sydney feels that in her bones. "You can't do a decent job and skirt this issue any longer. Ignoring it will not make it go away, I don't care how it offends your sensibilities." He looks her directly in the eye, not wavering an inch.
"Okay," she quietly relinquishes.
He stares at her still, then smiles, then nods his head and looks back down at the file in front of him.
"Doesn't she have name?"
"A name?" As if the idea has never crossed his mind. "I suppose." He pours through the document, trying to please the irritated Ms. Wingate. "Yes, here," he spots what he was looking for. "Melinda."
"You want a last name, too?" He looks befuddled.
"It would be nice," she does her best to contain her anger.
Tuck shrugs. "They don't have last names, Syd. They don't really have first names, just numbers. Hers is 21. But since she was with Samuel Janes last, call her Melinda Janes, if you like. That good enough?"
She purses her lips, annoyed. "No, not really, but I suppose I can't expect more."
"She's a voluntary commitment," he continues in the face of her glaring green eyes. "And your intervention need only be a formality. She's applied for permanent status. You review her file, give her the basic interview, the exam and rubberstamp the request. There's no need to ruffle anyone's feathers over these cases. You can't stomach the idea? Well, I got news for you, these girls like what they are doing-even the ones that come from within the system-like the pros in Nevada like it. Don't make a case of it, Sydney. It's not worth the grief. The system is not going to change anytime soon." His bushy eyebrows narrow as he makes his point.
"Maybe I want to make a case of it. Maybe I want to be sure that she hasn't been coerced by anyone. I'll take your file, and do the job. I'll do a thorough job, just as I do everything else. Okay with you?"
"Sure. Whatever." He shakes his head as he hands his colleague the file on Lot 21.
"Any deadline on this?''
"Not that I know of." He looks at Astrid to agree. The woman is the older, harried, blowsy version of the younger Sydney. Her dark hair is piled atop her head, slightly askew where she tucks her pencil when not in use. Although her make-up is a little heavy for a woman approaching sixty, she maintains a comely professional appearance. Thirty years ago, she turned many a head and had men beating down her door. A raw and knowing sensuality oozes from her slightly over-weight