Sometime during the night Bratt finally drifted off to sleep. When he woke up, after hitting the snooze button on his clock radio three times, it was nearly eight o’clock. A small, vengeful part of him hoped that Jeannie had slept as badly as he had, but he regretted the thought right away. It had been hard enough on both of them to witness Claire being cross-examined. He would try to be a little more understanding about why she blamed him along with Perron for how it had gone. The little voice in his head, which had been quite insistent the night before, woke up just in time to ask him if Jeannie wasn’t right to do so.
“Shut up, already,” Bratt said out loud.
Great, now I’m talking to myself, he thought as he headed for the shower. From now on I mind my own business.
He showered and shaved, and ate breakfast while reading the sports section of his morning paper. He assiduously avoided the city beat where, no doubt, a detailed account of the previous day’s courthouse activities could be found. The trials and tribulations of Montreal’s once-mighty hockey team were sufficiently aggravating morning fare.
By the time he left for work he had stopped hearing that irritating little voice, or, at least, had stopped listening to it.
Bratt et Leblanc, Avocats. The brass sign in the lobby at 511 Place d’Armes in Old Montreal was big enough to be seen from the street. Bratt pushed the heavy steel and glass door open and entered the stately brownstone. It was built in 1888 and, at nine stories, was the first skyscraper in Montreal. He stamped the snow from his feet on the rubber mat at the entrance and headed for the elevators, their doors also plated in shiny brass.
He and J.P. Leblanc had started out together sixteen years earlier, in a much less elegant building not too far from where their offices were now. Leblanc had been spinning his wheels for three years at Legal Aid when he decided to propose partnership to his old law school buddy Robert Bratt.
Bratt had begun his own legal career at the provincial prosecutor’s office, but too much internal politics and not enough money were incentives enough for him to jump to the other side of the judicial divide.
At the time his immediate superior was Francis Parent, a Jesuit-educated prosecutor with a nearly religious devotion to ridding his city’s hallowed streets of criminals and sinners. He cleaved to the virtuous path of his career as if he was following the Via Dolorosa.
Parent, who was an average trial lawyer of uncommon self-righteousness, looked upon Bratt’s departure from the Crown as an act of betrayal to his cause. He was certain that the young lawyer was selling his soul and jumping into a moral cesspool by joining the defense.
But Bratt had seen enough in his three years working with prosecutors and policemen to know that few of them had an exclusive claim to the moral high ground. In law, he learned, it was all a man could do to remain true to his own ethical code.
Heading up to his office in the elevator, Bratt felt the worries of the past twenty-four hours start to melt away. Even more than his expensive apartment with a view of Mount Royal, or his lakeside cottage in the Eastern Townships, this office was his true home.
Here he was among his own kind. Nobody would question his values or try to burden him with guilt. Nobody would criticize him for how he made his living. He was the unquestioned top dog in the firm, and that simple thought put the spring back into his step and brought a wide grin to his face. When he walked through the firm’s ornate wooden doors nobody would have suspected the inner turmoil that had kept him up half the night.
Sylvie, the receptionist, looked up at the sound of his voice as he greeted her. She handed him his mail and smiled back a hello while talking into her ever-present headset. Bratt noticed that the door to his office was closed and threw a questioning look in her direction. She covered the mouthpiece with one hand and said, “John’s there. I think he had another bad night.”
“John” was John Kalouderis, an associate in the firm who, in recent years, had become close friends with Bratt. He had a brilliant legal mind, when it wasn’t totally fogged by alcohol, and that was a rare enough occurrence these days. Kalouderis might not have lasted at the firm, even with Bratt’s friendship, if he didn’t have a particularly large, and largely dishonest, extended family, whose members regularly hired the firm’s high-priced lawyers to get them out of their scrapes with the law.
Bratt opened his office door and was immediately greeted by the licorice smell of ouzo emanating from the carcass sprawled across his leather sofa. Kalouderis’s snores were the only signs that the inert form held a grip on life. Bratt stood over the prone, slack-mouthed figure and shook it none too gently.
“Hey, Yanni, wake up! You’re drooling all over my sofa.”
Kalouderis snorted, opened his eyes and looked up blearily at his disturber, rubbing the back of his hand across his mouth. His expression was one of vague recognition, like he was searching his memory to put a name to a face that he hadn’t seen in a long time. He quickly gave up trying to remember and turned back onto his stomach, burying his face into the sofa.
“Fuck off, malaka! Get your own bed,” he mumbled.
Bratt threw his mail onto the pile of sweaty hair that was stuck to the back of his friend’s head, but got no reaction. Exasperated, he dropped into the chair behind his desk. Kalouderis’s vulgarity, as well as his indifference to Bratt’s arrival, irked him.
“I mean it, John. It’s well after nine and I’ve got work to do.”
“Go right ahead,” replied Kalouderis, “you won’t bother me.”
“Look, John, I’m damn tired myself and I don’t find this the least bit amusing, so MOVE IT!”
That last exhortation finally led to some movement on Kalouderis’s part. He began getting up slowly, gingerly putting his stockinged feet onto the floor as if he expected to find shards of broken glass there.
Bratt asked, “Did you spend the night here or did you crawl in drunk this morning?”
Kalouderis scratched his head at the question and tried to keep his gaze level at Bratt while answering. “Both, I guess. I got in about five o’clock, and I’ve been stretched-out here ever since.”
Bratt rested his head on the back of his chair and sighed. Every now and then Kalouderis and a group of his favorite cousins would hit the town and attempt to commit collective suicide by alcohol. This time he looked like he had almost succeeded. Bratt was concerned that his friend was going to embarrass himself publicly one day, which would, of course, embarrass the firm. Still, there was a part of Bratt that felt envy, wishing he could be as irresponsible with his own health and career. But he had too much to lose, in his personal and professional lives, to risk it for a night of uncontrolled drinking.
Kalouderis began awkwardly fishing around with his hands under the sofa, looking for his shoes. Finally retrieving them, he burped and struggled to his feet, a loafer in each hand. Bratt watched the proceedings with a sense of irritation, tapping his fingers on his desk in barely repressed impatience.
Kalouderis swayed slightly where he stood and breathed in deeply through his nose. “Geez, I reek. Mind if I use your shower?”
“As a matter of fact, I insist on it,” Bratt replied, thinking of the staff and clientele who would come into contact with Kalouderis during the day.
Once his friend had shuffled off to the partners’ private shower area, Bratt turned his attention to his day’s work. He had a number of phone calls to make before drafting his final arguments for the Hall trial. Brenton would probably spend all of tomorrow pleading, so Bratt wouldn’t have to plead until Thursday morning.
He remembered that Nate Morris was testifying in his rape trial that morning. The jury would probably start deliberating some time tomorrow, and Bratt’s experience told him they probably wouldn’t have to deliberate very long. If, or when, they acquitted Morris, Bratt suspected that he would be having another heated discussion with Jeannie. He would get as much work as he could done now while his mind was still free from the aggravation that awaited him.
Bratt was less than an hour into reviewing his trial notes when J.P. Leblanc opened his office door without knocking. He walked in and, with an audible grunt, sat down heavily on the sofa that had so recently served as Kalouderis’s bed. Leblanc was more than eighty pounds overweight and a heavy smoker. Whenever he sat, it was always heavily. Grunting was optional.
“Who the hell made a mess in the shower?”
“Probably John,” Bratt answered, without looking up from his papers. “I found him asleep and drooling all over that sofa when I came in this morning.”
“Aw, crap,” Leblanc said, trying to jump up from any wet spot he may have sat on, but only managing to shift his position to the middle of the sofa before the exertion made him give up. “That pig,” he said, red-faced. “I should fire him, you know.”
“Yes, you should. If you go do it now maybe I can get some work done.”
Bratt looked up to see if his partner had gotten his point, but Leblanc hadn’t moved. Watching him slowly ruminate over whatever it was he wanted to talk about, Bratt wondered, and not for the first time, how such an eclectic group of people had ended up working, and working so well, together. About the only thing the eleven lawyers in the firm had in common was a highly competitive nature and a willingness to do whatever was necessary to win. Over the years this had kept a harmony of sorts in place between them.
Leblanc sat without speaking, although he clearly had something on his mind.
“So, how’d the interviews go?” Bratt asked. “Find any diamonds in the rough?”
“Hm. Oh, yes. I did, actually,” Leblanc answered, sounding distracted.
Bratt put down his note pad, folded his arms across his chest, and cleared his throat impatiently.
“Oh, yeah. You hear about Lynn Sévigny?”
Bratt was surprised at the topic his partner had chosen to broach. Sévigny was a struggling, but fiercely independent, sole practitioner who rented a small office down the hall from them. Bratt had always admired her fighting spirit and, on occasion, had discreetly sent some business her way. He had been among the first people she had confided in when a cancerous lump had been found in her left breast.
“I heard they operated on her,” Bratt said.
“Yeah. She…you know-”
“Don’t say it,” Bratt interrupted. “I know what they did.”
“Yeah, anyway, she’s not going back to work for a while, you know, what with the chemo she’ll probably have to get and stuff. You know it makes them go bald.”
“I’m aware that can happen,” Bratt said, uncomfortable about discussing Sévigny’s medical problems with his less than sensitive partner.
Leblanc scratched his head, trying to look concerned and thoughtful. “This is gonna be tough on her, financially-speaking. You know if she’s off work for a long time she’s gonna lose a lot of clients.”
“I know. I think she has some insurance.”
“Yeah, I guess so, although she probably couldn’t afford enough.” There was another thoughtful pause from Leblanc. “Thing is, maybe we can help her out a bit.”
Bratt had never expected altruism from Leblanc. He had been partners with the man long enough to know that he didn’t spend too much of his time worrying about lawyers outside the firm.
“Help her how?”
“She was scheduled to do a murder trial this term. You know, that Small kid who’s been in the papers. It’s supposed to start in three weeks or so, and now that her guy’s going to need a new lawyer I thought we should look into taking over the case from her.”
Bratt knew he should have seen this coming. “The woman’s just been operated on and the vultures are already circling! Some help you’re offering.”
“Come on, Bobby. I’m really thinking of her. At least we can take care of her a bit from whatever we get, which a lot of other guys wouldn’t do, you know. Besides, this kid’s been inside for I don’t know how many months. We can’t let him wait until she’s back on her feet to have his trial. That would be unconscionable. She knows that, I’m sure. Anyway, I’m going to see her in a couple of days in the hospital, so I thought I’d speak to her about the case then.”
“Don’t forget to bring her flowers while you’re at it,” Bratt snapped.
Leblanc waved Bratt’s remark away. He slid his bulk back over to the side of the sofa, pushed with all his strength on its padded arm, and slowly levered himself up to his feet with another grunt.
“Look, why should the file end up with Chartrand or Gold? At least we’ve always been friendly, and I’m sure she’d prefer that it was us who took over for her than one of those other guys.”
Bratt didn’t answer, so Leblanc just shrugged and walked back out, his message delivered. He closed the door softly behind him, leaving Bratt to try to get his thoughts back on his trial notes.
He didn’t relish being one of the sharks getting ready to pounce on the remains of Lynn Sévigny’s practice, but maybe Leblanc was right. She probably would prefer the Small murder file going to their office rather than to certain other lawyers.
Either way, it wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t about to jump into a murder trial that was due to start in less than a month. Once he had won over the jury in Cooper Hall’s trial he was going to take some well-deserved time off to recharge his batteries, and maybe mend some fences with Jeannie.
The next day was Wednesday, and Bratt was back in court for the reprise of the fraud trial. As Brenton’s final arguments dragged into the afternoon Bratt received a note telling him that the jury in Nate Morris’s trial was still deliberating. He slipped the note into his pocket and tried to concentrate on his own case.
Brenton gave a detailed recitation of the facts that had been alleged against Hall, delivered in the prosecutor’s inimitably slow and phlegmatic style. Most of Bratt’s mental energy was used up trying to look like he was paying attention while his esteemed adversary droned on and on, reminding Bratt of how painfully dull much of the trial had been.
Bratt let his eyes roam around the courtroom, and they stopped at the long legs of Sergeant-Detective Nancy Morin sitting in the first row of the gallery. She wore a blue suit jacket over a skirt with a fashionably high hemline which revealed that she did some serious running when she wasn’t sitting in court.
Her light brown hair was cut just above her ears, revealing a strong, but graceful neck. Once upon a time Bratt might have found her athletic build a bit too muscular for his taste, but in the two months of this trial she had managed to radically change his tastes. Now their mutual attraction was evident to anyone who watched them interact in the courthouse hallways.
His gaze lingered on her legs and a small smile formed on his lips as he recalled the sparks that had flown when he had cross-examined her over a month earlier. He had tried attacking Morin on everything from her personal honesty to her professional competence, but she hadn’t backed down an inch. Her pale, greyish-green eyes had flashed angrily at him as she stood her ground against his onslaught. Her defiance had actually excited him, to the point where he lost track of his questions more than once.
His grin widened at that memory, and then he realized that she was looking straight back at him, also smiling. He felt unexpectedly embarrassed and snapped his gaze back to Brenton.
That was really smooth, he chided himself. She’s really gotten to you, Bobby.
Bratt tried to keep his attention on Brenton’s monologue on the off-chance that he might miss something of interest. He had no reason to fear, though. The details and minutiae of the Crown’s evidence that was being dumped on the jury seemed to have lost all meaning to anyone other than Brenton himself.
What passed for Brenton’s style was anything but dramatic or exciting. His calm, ploddingly analytical arguments betrayed his conservative, English schooling, and Bratt was glad to notice that they did nothing to keep the jury’s interest or attention. Among the twelve sworn citizens, some eyes wandered, while others slowly shut, only to blink rapidly open again, as Brenton reviewed the countless graphs and charts that had been prepared by the Crown’s best forensic accountants. Yawns were barely stifled as Brenton carefully listed offshore bank accounts and dummy numbered companies, in the hope that the jury would understand how they all linked together like a chain that should come together to imprison Hall.
Bratt had no doubt that this chain of transactions could fatally encircle his client. His arguments tomorrow would aim at the chain’s weakest links, those officers of Hall’s companies who had testified for the prosecution. For much of the trial’s two months he had poked and prodded and questioned them until he was certain they had lost all credibility in the jury’s eyes. When it was his turn to plead he would remind the jury, in a much more dramatic and entertaining style than Brenton, of how unworthy of its trust these men were.
Once the testimony of these witnesses was set aside, the Crown’s case against Hall became purely circumstantial. Bratt loved that term, “purely circumstantial.” He was sure some American TV writer must have coined it. Any lawyer knew that circumstantial evidence could often be more accurate and more damaging than a dozen eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses were notorious for forgetting or misconstruing the most basic facts. They regularly bent the truth to make themselves look more important or their testimony more relevant.
Despite that, most jurors felt only a roomful of eyewitnesses could assure them that an accused was guilty. Show them a solid case made up entirely of circumstantial evidence, and chances were they’d still have lingering doubts.
And Bratt knew that those little doubts were what acquittals were made of.
The following morning a clean layer of snow that had fallen overnight covered the trees on the hillside adjacent to Bratt’s apartment building. The previous day’s bright sunshine had been replaced by a heavily overcast sky. According to the incomprehensible rules of Montreal winters, that meant that this day would be warmer than the day before. With the rise in temperature all that glistening snow would soon melt into piles of mud-like slush. Municipal snow-clearing crews were in the midst of their seemingly annual work slowdown, and the streets and sidewalks would be an adventure to negotiate.
The taxi carrying Bratt straight to court from his apartment made its way slowly through the clogged and sloppy streets. Despite the depressing weather, his mood remained upbeat. Two months of deathly boredom had been replaced by a feeling of near-giddiness in anticipation of finally addressing the jury. Instead of the countless hours he spent slumped in his chair yesterday, praying that Brenton would pack it in before one of the jurors became suicidal, today Bratt was to be the center of attention.
He saw himself standing, with just the lightest touch of cockiness, in front of the jury and making his brief, but brilliant, final arguments. His well-chosen words would seem to fly by, compared to the previous day’s marathon. He would display the casual, self-effacing charm for which he was well-known, seemingly almost embarrassed at his own hard-to-conceal cleverness and wit.
He would guide the jury easily to the conclusion that the Crown witnesses should be ignored and the circumstantial evidence rejected, so that everyone could happily return to their regular lives, feeling good about themselves and a job well done.
Bratt looked out of the taxi window as he approached the tall, featureless building that was the Palais de Justice. Its flat, slate-grey exterior matched the dull winter clouds overhead. The taxi pulled out of the early-morning traffic and stopped at the curb in front of the Notre Dame Street entrance. On the sidewalk, pedestrians balanced themselves like tightrope walkers as they stepped across the melting ice and over unplowed snow banks. Their faces expressed frustration and worry at the precariousness of their footing.
Bratt opened the car door, stretched one long leg out and smoothly stepped over the slush-filled roadway. Then he gingerly stepped across the still-frozen sidewalk and headed in the direction of the courthouse. A city worker was busy salting the cement steps to prevent any potential accidents. Bratt saw several fellow lawyers, over-stuffed briefcases in hand, inching carefully up the stairs ahead of him. He smiled cynically as he imagined all the lawsuits they would gladly file if they ever took a spill on government property.
He gripped the handrails tightly, tucked his chin into his upturned collar against a sudden draft of cold wind and followed the trail of salt up the stairs and through the automatic revolving door.
Once he was inside the cavernous, but dimly-lit, atrium his glasses immediately fogged up from the warm air. The large lobby area hummed softly with the sounds of the usual collection of lawyers and policemen, litigants and witnesses, and unemployed courthouse regulars who depended on the daily drama of the law for some free entertainment on these cold winter days.
He moved forward, resigned to the fact that everyone around him would be nothing but a blur for the next minute or so. He passed the information desk and the Espresso counter, squinting over his now useless glasses, nodding and smiling at the half-seen faces that floated by. He may not have been able to recognize them but he assumed that they all recognized him.
When he reached the escalator a large, blurry figure brushed up against his left arm.
“Better wipe those glasses clean before you get to the TV cameras, Bobby-boy,” Leblanc said, breathing heavily from the effort of catching up with Bratt. “They’ll ruin your carefully-groomed image of sophistication.”
Bratt turned toward the familiar voice, accepting a tissue that the latter was holding out. “J.P. Coming up to enjoy some of my brilliant oratory?”
Leblanc laughed. “Please, haven’t you got enough groupies and hangers-on filling up the courtroom? No, I’ll just worship your greatness from afar.”
Bratt wiped his glasses with the tissue as he stepped off the escalator. “Well, you’ll miss a great show, if I do say so myself.”
“Yeah, but Brenton isn’t exactly a hard act to follow,” Leblanc said, turning to walk away. “I might make it up to see you if I don’t get stuck behind the Legal Aid guy at the bail hearings. Kick ass.”
“You know I will.”
Bratt navigated his way down the crowded hallway. Spotting the TV cameras posted outside the doors of the courtroom about thirty feet ahead he quickened his steps in anticipation.
As he approached the courtroom the cameras turned their bright lights toward him. Microphone-toting journalists stepped up and smiled at him. Bratt smiled back, his warmest, most sincere smile and came to them like a favorite son, home after a long absence. He would gladly pause long enough to answer all their questions, no matter how long it took. Twice during the trial Judge Smythe had needed to send the constable out to drag him away from the cameras.
Once past the media scrum and inside the courtroom he paused, like a warrior looking over the field before a battle. He saw that Brenton was engaged in an all-too-friendly chat with Nancy Morin. As Bratt approached, Brenton smiled stiffly and returned to the prosecution’s table, grudgingly conceding defeat on at least this point.
Morin turned in her chair and looked up at Bratt, smiling unabashedly. She wore a sharp gray suit, which, in Bratt’s eyes, looked anything but business-like.
“That’s Sergeant-Detective Morin, sir. I happen to be on duty.”
“If you’re going to be that officious you should wear a uniform.”
Morin smiled mischievously and said, “If you don’t like what I’m wearing I could always take it off.”
Bratt laughed nervously. He was always surprised to find her more aggressive in her flirtation than he was. He was more old-fashioned than he cared to admit and her brashness put him on the defensive.
Morin must have sensed his discomfort, because she quickly changed the subject. “All set to give your big speech.”
Bratt smiled, feet planted on more familiar turf now. “You just wait and see. If you thought I was brilliant earlier in this trial...”
Morin laughed, well-used to Bratt’s vanity as well as his humor. “Well I’m absolutely dying with anticipation. I only hope I can survive the wait.”
“Oh, nobody told you?”
Bratt shook his head, mildly concerned now.
“Juror number six lives on the South Shore,” she explained, “and he’s stuck on the Champlain Bridge behind nearly half a dozen fender-benders. We’ve got a good hour wait ahead of us.”
Bratt only nodded at this news, trying to hide his disappointment. Despite his years of experience, he always got an adrenalin rush before making his closing arguments to a jury. This unexpected delay was going to be torture for him. Morin was still looking up at him, smiling and unaware of how bothered he was by the interruption in his plans, so he decided he’d make the best of it.
“Well now,” he said, as he sat down next to her, “I’m sure I could find worse company for the next hour or so.”
In room 4.05, where Nate Morris’s trial was being held, the sequestered jurors all arrived together and on time from their downtown hotel. They rendered their verdict shortly after arriving at the courthouse, suggesting that they had held off on giving their verdict the previous day in order to enjoy at least one night on the government’s tab.
About three-quarters of an hour after his own arrival at court, Bratt was still sitting and chatting happily with Nancy Morin when Jeannie walked into the courtroom. Bratt’s back was to the door, so he had no idea she was there until he noticed several people looking toward the rear of the room. He turned and saw his daughter, tears streaming down her face, staring at him from where she stood.
Morin was in the middle of some not so slight sexual innuendo when Bratt suddenly stood up, as if she had offended him. He paused only long enough to take in the scene in front of him, before rushing toward Jeannie. He was unsure how she felt about him at that moment, but his paternal instincts permitted no hesitation. As soon as he got to her he opened his arms and enveloped her in them. She pressed her face into his chest and sobbed, her hands grasping the vest he wore under his robes.
“They let the bastard go, Daddy! They let him go!”
He had no words to comfort her at that moment, so he just squeezed her tighter. After a few seconds it occurred to him that she was there alone and he asked, “Claire?”
He could barely make out Jeannie’s answer through her tears. “They took her to the infirmary. She fainted when they…when they gave the verdict. She was on the floor and he just walked out without even looking at her!”
“Christ, I’m so sorry, Jeannie.” It sounded trite, but what else could he say? How else could he express how badly he felt at the turn of events? He only hoped that she would recognize the sincerity in his words. She looked up at his face, her sobbing starting to ebb, and nodded.
He wanted to take her somewhere more private, where they could talk without being the center of attention. Out in the hallway, though, the cameramen and journalists would be waiting to swarm all over them. He looked over to the constable and signaled him closer.
“I can’t take her out the front door with those cameras out there.”
The constable nodded his understanding. “OK, you can take her through the judge’s door into the back hall. But you better follow me so you don’t run into any jurors back there.”
His arm wrapped protectively around Jeannie, Bratt hustled her down the aisle toward the front of the courtroom. Morin was still standing where he had left her, her concern evident on her face. He glanced at her briefly, but didn’t know how he could express his myriad feelings in that split-second’s look, so he turned his eyes back to the constable ahead of him and hoped she would understand.
Once into the corridor running behind all the courtrooms, the constable directed them to an empty meeting room where they could talk privately, and then left them. Bratt sat facing Jeannie, holding both her hands in one of his, stroking her tear-streaked cheek with the other. He waited for her to speak first.
“This really sucks,” she finally said.
“I really wish I hadn’t come today. I hate this whole place. I hate everything that goes on here.”
Bratt feared this comment might signal a renewed attack upon him or his profession, but he resisted the impulse to defend himself.
“I just don’t understand,” she continued. “You take twelve average people off the street, people that are as honest as anybody else, and then convince them to let a guilty man go. How do you do that?”
Again Bratt held back from answering. Maybe it was a rhetorical question, but he suspected that her comments were directed at him personally.
She cleared up any doubts when she asked him, “Don’t you have anything to say?”
“I really wasn’t sure what I should answer. I didn’t think you would like whatever I had to say, so I thought it better...”
As he let his words trail off, she jumped to her feet. The anger in her eyes reminded him of the look she had given him in the hallway the day Claire broke down on the stand.
“Since when are you afraid to defend yourself, Daddy? You can defend any scumbag that can afford to hire you, so how come you can’t come up with a brilliant argument to convince me of how I’m seeing it all wrong?”
“Jeannie, honey, let’s not do this now.”
“Why not? This is as good a time as any. Aren’t you supposed to think fast on your feet? So, think about this, Mr. Defense Lawyer: he raped her and he walked away! You used to give us both piggyback rides, and this creep raped her!”
“Dammit, why are you blaming me for what he did to her?”
“Because you helped him get away with it!”
Her accusation hit him like a slap in the face. He knew that her words applied equally to what Morris had done to Claire as well as to the crime he had been acquitted of four years earlier. An acquittal that had come courtesy of the courtroom tactics of one Robert Bratt, defense attorney to the rich and infamous. Details of that earlier trial tried to force their way into Bratt’s mind, but he quickly shoved them back into the recesses of his memory. The sight of Claire crumbling under cross-examination had been reminder enough of how easily a nervous witness could be torn apart in court.
Jeannie didn’t give him any more time to think of a reply before lashing out with, “It could have been me that he raped!”
Bratt jumped to his feet.
“Christ, this is ridiculous! Are you going to hold me responsible every time a client goes out and commits another crime?”
“Why not? You’re always so quick to hog the credit when you win, but you never think about the consequences, do you? If that bastard had gone to jail for what he did four years ago, he might never have done it again. But you were just too damn good a lawyer!”
“This is insane. I was just-”
“Doing my job,” Jeannie cut in, parroting the last line of every lawyer’s defense.
She looked at her father defiantly, as if daring him to answer her back. But Bratt did not answer. He wanted to yell out that her accusations, however logical on the surface, were too simplistic and patently unfair to him and to the whole legal profession. He knew this in his mind, but in his heart he couldn’t find the words to answer her.
He suddenly felt very old and tired, as if all the life had gone out of him. All his stock answers to Jeannie’s questions seemed weak and inappropriate.
The spell that held them both in place, staring at each other wordlessly, was broken when the door opened and the constable stuck his head into the room.
“Sorry to interrupt, but number six just got here. The judge wants you to start right away.”
Bratt still couldn’t pull his gaze away from Jeannie. He couldn’t leave this situation unresolved, yet there was no more time to talk.
“I think we really need to talk about this some more, OK? Tonight, when we get home. Please?”
She didn’t answer him. Instead, she silently turned and walked out the door ahead of him and was quickly gone down the corridor. He knew that she could have made some sort of peace with him if she had wanted to, but she preferred leaving him twisting in the wind. Her bitterness would not let her turn back. Now he would have to put all thoughts of this argument behind him and get back to court. They were waiting for him.
A few minutes later, Robert Bratt stood at the broad desk that passed for a lectern in the courtroom, his shoulders bowed under the weight of the guilt his daughter had laid on him. He watched as the twelve jurors, eight women and four men, entered the room and took their seats. Several of them glanced over in his direction. Their cheerful expressions revealed that, having watched him at work for two months, they were expecting him to put on a good show for them this morning. At least two of the female jurors smiled at him, and not for the first time during the trial.
The room was now fairly full. A few journalists occupied the front row. Nancy Morin, whose frown of concern still lingered, sat just behind them. Around her sat various retirees and unemployed types that had drifted in during the weeks of the trial’s progress and ended up coming back for each new episode.
Yet Bratt just continued to stand, silent and motionless, totally unaffected by the people in the court or their expectations of him. He stood so impassively, while the jurors entered and the judge settled everyone in the courtroom down, that his client surely felt confident that Bratt was focusing on the job at hand, blocking out all the irrelevant distractions around him.
As it so happened, Bratt’s mind was so unfocussed on the case he was about to plead that Judge Smythe had to clear his throat meaningfully twice, and finally call out Bratt’s name, ever so politely, in order to get the lawyer’s attention.
This finally brought Bratt back from his reverie, and he saw that they were all waiting for him to start. A momentary look of confusion flashed across his face, then it was gone. He was aware of what he was there to do, but a sort of mental inertia was keeping him from getting started, as Jeannie’s words continued to ring in his ears.
He looked over the twelve still-patient faces before him and realized that he was going to look like a fool if he didn’t say something soon. He tried to will his daughter’s tear-filled voice to leave him in peace just long enough for him to get through the morning.
Slowly, a sense of detached calm came over him. He began to feel like a disinterested observer with no stake in what was happening. He felt no pressure on himself at all, and he stood perceptibly straighter. He managed to let all of Jeannie’s arguments fade away quietly, until the sound of her voice in his memory was just so much background noise.
Then, as if nothing else in the world could have been on his mind, he smiled the casually handsome smile he reserved for juries and women he hoped to seduce. He greeted the jurors with a bright “Good morning, everyone,” and they greeted him back cheerfully, relieved, perhaps, that all was back to normal.
To his left, Sam Brenton shifted uncomfortably in his seat, realizing that his presence in the courtroom had just become superfluous. Bratt’s hands, soft and perfectly-manicured, opened his file folder and settled his neatly written notes on the desk in front of him.
He heard a warm, rich voice begin to speak. It was reading some of the words that were written on the pages, and adding many other words. He recognized the voice as his own, and heard in it the confidence and ease he expected of himself at this time.
In his mind’s eye he stepped forward and turned around to watch himself give his final arguments. He no longer saw the judge or the jury. He was alone in the courtroom. With total self-absorption, he studied every move that he made: how he turned his head, how he smiled occasionally, how he leaned forward and stood silently, his palms pressed down on the desk in front of him, when the moment called for seriousness.
He was perfectly aware of the impression he was making with his words, his tone of voice and his body language. These all had an unrehearsed quality, a seemingly honest spontaneity about them, as if he was just having a relaxed chat with the jurors, talking off the cuff. Years of practice had gone into refining his technique to get just that effect and he smiled inwardly as he watched it work its magic once more. His timing was perfect. Like a veteran stand-up comic, he knew just how long to pause before hitting his audience with a punch line.
Look at their eyes, he thought. Look at the expressions on their faces. They’re eating up every word I say.
He was in awe of himself.
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Genre – Courtroom Drama
Rating – R
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