Funny Stuff
Dark Justice -- Chapter 27

Dark Justice -- Chapter 26

Wayward Passions

Each moment of every day, two earthly sovereigns survey the acts of each and every one of us. Our founders revolted for the sake of liberty, throwing tea in a harbor to protest what amounted to trifling taxes. Today, state and federal governments employ millions, and we are regulated, taxed and sometimes prosecuted to an extent that would have made Thomas Jefferson apoplectic. Reardon used to rail about this as a lawyer. He was older now, and if no wiser, a judicial robe and a well-honed gavel initiated him into mysteries he now accepted without protest.

He was about to preside over a trial about which, officially, he knew next to nothing. Soon a file would be dumped on his desk. In theory, that was all he would know about the case before meeting the lawyers. He’d have a chance to review an arrest warrant, and, perhaps read a little transcript of any hearings. He’d also have a chance to glance at motions, the lawyers’ request that a judge, any judge, permit or prohibit one thing or another. The system said that the less a judge knew about the case before beginning trial, the better. Sort of like the theory that ignorance is bliss, or is it that justice is blind?

Reardon sat staring out the window of his chambers. The Antoine file was not yet delivered to him. There was still time to back out. He could do so without breaking The Shark’s confidence. After all, how could Reardon know the contents of the envelope? He had been instructed not to open it unless something happened to his client, and his client said, in spite of appearances to the contrary, that nothing had happened.

Why not open the envelope and take a peak? Perhaps its contents shed no light on the Antoine case at all.

Reardon was at once filled with self-reproach.

When he closed his practice, he should have made clear to The Shark that he could no longer serve as his lawyer. Reardon should never have let himself be placed in this position.

Why hadn’t he just picked up the phone, called Merlin, and relayed the obvious? He was ascending to the bench, and he could no longer practice law in the same jurisdiction. Wasn’t The Shark entitled to representation and counsel by someone whose hands were not tied?

Reardon himself felt as though he was in need of a lawyer. But whom to call? Using one of the lawyers provided by the Judicial Branch would make obvious his lapse in judgment, and Reardon did not trust lawyers appointed by agencies to keep client confidences. Indeed, Reardon didn’t trust most lawyers to keep confidence. For proof, he need look no further to the raucous gossip at the judge’s table at the diner. Idle minds love tales told out of school.

There was, in Reardon’s view, something decidedly low rent and depressing about the state-court system. It lacked a certain dignity. The pool of talent from which judges were drawn contained far too many men and women who had little business practicing law, much less deciding issues on which lives or fortunes depended.

Reardon had always been in love with the federal courts. Even the spit-shined surfaces of the lawyers’ tables in each of the federal courtrooms bespoke a certain elegance. And behind the bench of each judge, the seal of the court. When arguing from the well of that court, any lawyer with any sense could hear the echo of several centuries’ history. One needn’t buy into the myth of American triumphalism to be impressed. This was the same court that had struggled for centuries to give shape to a continent. It was the same court that had endured a conflict that sent brothers to seek one another’s death over conflicting definitions of the good. It was history, and it was dignified.

Reardon would much rather have become a federal judge. But he lacked the clout, connection and the savvy to sidle up to the right troughs. He’d not married into wealth. And none of his college roommates had ascended to high public office. Reardon did not have the moxie to promote himself shamelessly when he was new at the bar. While law school classmates of his were working the fund-raising circuits and rubber chicken dinners to gain name recognition and a shot at becoming U.S. Attorney, Reardon was copping pleas for clients who couldn’t pay more than a couple of hundred dollars for a fee. When was the last time a federal judge had been appointed from among the ranks of the unwashed representatives of the hoi polloi, Reardon wondered.

A federal judge would not be sitting alone in his chambers at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon waiting for a file to be handed to him so that he could start trial the following Monday, a trial that could result in a man’s sitting behind bars for the rest of his life.

No, a federal judge would have had the file assigned to him from the outset. He would have lived with the file, and have researched the issues likely to arise in the course of the case. What’s more, a federal judge would have decided most of the issues well before trial, whether, for example, to suppress a confession because it was illegally obtained, or whether to limit the evidence in some significant way.

Reardon was getting himself worked up now, a familiar sense of self-righteous indignation filling the space normally echoing with the sound of doubt.

Justice in the state-court criminal system seemed to him like a high-stakes version of spin the bottle. Everything left to the last minute. Trial seemed less a search for truth, than a sprint through the discount section of Kmart just before the closing time. Grab what you can before the gavel falls.

"Thank you for seeing me on such short notice," Justice Arlen Spicer was settling into one of the leather chairs in his lawyer’s office. It was five a.m. Spiker was an early riser and he calculated that the odds of being seen coming and going on Maple Street, known as lawyer’s row, were remote at that hour.

"Always a pleasure, Justice" what can I do for you. Mark Neal sat with hands folded. He was a trim and self-satisfied sixty-four years old, fancying bow-ties and suspenders.

"Well, let me get right to it. The Belle Grande police want to question me."

"About what?"

"Well, er, I think it has something to do with Max."

Neal glanced out of his window and into the early morning darkness. Neal despised Max Greenberg. The man was a philistine, a pimp, for God’s sake. That Spiker found himself in Max’s web of lust and deceit was a sorrow Neal rarely discussed with anyone other than his litigation partners. Peace had been purchased with Max, but at great cost. Someday there would be war, perhaps bloodshed. Neal hoped at one level that he lived long enough to see it, so long as the blood spilled was Max’s, and not one of his client’s.

"How so?" Neal asked.

"Well, someone put my car near the scene at which the Fuchs kid is believed to have been murdered."

"`Fuchs kid’ as in the stepson of Harmon Fitzgerald?"

"Exactly."

What narcissism. A colleague’s son murdered, your car placed at the scene, and all you can think of is your dirty laundry at Max’s. Neal stifled this thought behind a facade of studied calm.

"Well, for starters, were you there?"

"Geez, how would I know? I mean, I don’t remember anything about it."

"What, or who, is the source of this information? Lester disappeared two years ago. This is a little late in the game isn’t?" Neal sat with his fingers arched in connected steeples before him.

"I don’t know more than I told you. I was driving an Audi back then, an S-8. There weren’t many of them on the road, so who knows. I mean, look. I want to keep this quiet."

"Well, let me look into it, and we’ll chart a course from there. Obviously, you know you are under no obligation to speak to the police. Should they call again, refer them to me."

"Do you think this is something Max cooked up?" Spiker looked away. His marriage to Max had been consummated in the arms of a young man savvy enough to have filmed the event. Max kept the film, somewhere; it was connected to the line he used to yank Spiker this way and that.

"I don’t know," Neal said. "I will find out, however. "In the meantime, just go about your business, and remember, speak of this to no one."

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