I've got one rule in the morning—drink two double cappuccinos before I do anything else. I occasionally make exceptions, however, for fly fishing or a pre-breakfast run with my dog. On the morning this case began, one look out the window signaled a run was in order. I was in Portland and the early spring day broke clear and bright. As I put on my jogging shoes, Archie spun in circles and barked in high-pitched, crazed excitement. I leashed him up and we headed out, working our way over to Burnside from Couch, then down the steep steps at the bridge and across to Tom McCall Park.
Not that many spring days break clear in Portland, so half the city, it seemed, was out that morning. Walkers, runners, bikers, 'boarders, and even a couple of Segway riders vied for right-of-way on the broad promenade running along the west side of the rain-swollen Willamette River. I was hoping my favorite, the kilted, unicycling bagpiper, would be out, but I didn't see him. The cherry trees edging the walkway were in full bloom, and out on the water, slanting sunlight silhouetted the low profiles of multi-oared sculls. It was spring in Portland, there was light, and like a living organism, the city surged with newfound energy.
Archie and I wove our way north and crossed the river at the Steel Bridge, then headed south on the Eastbank Esplanade, a series of floating sections, ramps, and concrete paths that hugged the Willamette and afforded an unobstructed view of Portland's skyline across the river. That morning the U.S. Bancorp Tower—known to locals as the Big Pink—glowed rosily in the sunlight, and ten blocks south, the Art Deco KOIN Center looked like a Jules Verne rocket ship poised to blast off. Arch and I crossed back over on the Hawthorne Bridge, and by the time we got back to my Portland office I was breathing pretty hard. I stood at the front door fumbling for the keys in my sweats when I heard someone clear her throat behind me.
"Excuse me, but could you tell me where Caffeine Central is?"
I turned to face a twentysomething Hispanic woman. She was small in stature, a couple of inches more than five feet, and wore boots, scruffy jeans, and a tee-shirt that had Hands Off My Hood emblazoned across the front.
"This is it," I said, pointing upward. "The sign's a little faded."
"Oh," she said, glancing up, "I didn't see it. Are you Cal Claxton?"
I offered my hand and smiled. "In the flesh. Uh, this is my office. The place used to be a coffee shop called Caffeine Central before a Starbucks moved in up the street and squeezed it out of business. I've been meaning to replace that sign." What I didn't say was that that had been my intention for the decade I'd been running this part-time, pro-bono law practice in Portland.
She grasped my hand with surprising firmness. "I'm Angela Wingate." She had a lovely, heart-shaped face dominated by brown eyes that mirrored the color of her short hair. "I've come to talk to you, Mr. Claxton."
I glanced at my watch. "We don't open for another thirty minutes. If you'd like to wait, I'll be back down as soon as I shower and change." Drops of sweat dripped from my eyebrows as if to emphasize the point. She nodded, and I added, "Archie, here, will keep you company. You want some coffee? I'm making some."
She declined the coffee and followed me through the small waiting room into my office. Archie sidled up next to her with his stump of a tail twitching. "An Aussie," she said. "Love his markings. He's very handsome."
"Careful," I said over my shoulder as I climbed the stairs up to my studio apartment, "it'll go straight to his head."
Twenty-five minutes later I joined Angela, carrying a steaming mug of coffee. Archie left her side, took his favorite spot in the corner, and lay with his white paws extended and his ears up, as if he, too, were curious about our first visitor of the day.
Before I could say anything, she pointed to a small sign hanging behind my desk that read:
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. — Arthur Ashe
"I like that." She showed a wisp of a smile.
I nodded. "Me, too. So, Angela, what can I do for you?"
She shifted in her seat, squeezed one hand with the other, and teared up. "Oh, shit. I promised myself I wouldn't do this."
I got up and handed her a tissue. "Hey, crying's allowed in here. What's the problem? Take your time."