Warning: The following is fiction intended for mature audiences.
"Millie, we need to talk," Reardon said.
Millie looked up. His tone was not desperate. The announcement was simple, and did not seem to bear the seeds of some deep-rooted discontent. She put her coffee mug down.
"Is everything all right?"
"I’m not sure," Reardon said. "I think we might be in some kind of trouble."
Well, at least the pronoun was right. Or was it? If he were ill, diagnosed now with some life-ending disease, that would be their problem. So, too, would be the consequences of an audit by the tax man. Her head started to spin through possibilities. He often formed his thoughts slowly, and the gaps between sentences, sometimes between words, opened vast worlds of possibilities in her mind.
"It’s about the Antoine case."
"What about it, JJ?"
"Well, it’s sort of complicated, but the bottom line is that I think I may have a conflict. I don’t think I should be presiding over the trial."
Her hand reached for his across the smooth oaken surface of their breakfast table. She was both alarmed, and flattered in a funny sort of way. While Reardon was practicing law, they had rarely talked about his cases. He preferred it that way. He tried to leave the chaos at the office. Would a doctor bring a festering tumor home, place it on the dining room table, and then offer to discuss his day?
Perhaps Reardon would include her more, now that he was a judge.
"What sort of conflict?"
"I am not really sure. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of it at all."
Reardon was debating whether to tell her about the delivery of what he assumed to be a sliver of Shank’s tongue to their doorstep. That was too frightening.
He told her the story about his meeting with Merlin Shank years ago. About the envelope with the key to solving the murder of Lester Fuchs. How Shank’s wife had called to report that the mutilation of her husband was nothing at all. His decision not to disclose any potential conflict when first asked by Nash to scan the list of active criminal cases in the Belle Grande court. And he talked about meeting with the lawyers, Clarence Sterling and Mark Shamir, neither knowing that he possessed a potentially decisive secret. He ended by saying that he expected to see Shank in court that very day, and he wondered aloud how to manage all of the vectors pointing in his direction.
Reardon talked and talked and talked. Millie’s eyes grew wide, and she stifled the urge to ask questions. And then he stopped talking, and sat staring into his coffee cup, now, like him, empty.
"So there you have it, Moops," he looked sad. "And I am due in court in an hour to start jury selection. "
"JJ, I, well, really, this is extraordinary." Millie now adjusting to the heft and weight of this uninvited burden.
"I think you should go to the police, JJ. Don’t you?"
Reardon suddenly missed Marcy, his former paralegal. A vision of her laying dead on Vine Street flashed through his mind. Then he recalled the easy intimacy of her eyes. Somehow, she would have known what to do, how best to deal with this thing he called a conflict. She knew him and his work, or so he thought. Maybe that wasn’t it at all. The intimacy he shared with Marcy was an easy illusion. She was not a peer; not a mate along life’s way. She always had the right answer to his questions because she listened well. Her gift, if it can be called a gift, was the ability to discern what he wanted, and to return it with a smile. The warmth she generated was not real intimacy. It was not a communion of souls. It was a mirror with lipstick; a scented pond into which he could gaze to see his own reflection. At some level he knew that, but he missed her still.
"I am not sure what the police could do, Moops." He was trying hard to listen, to be open to what insight she could muster.
"Well, it is not your job to investigate, Jon." She tried to remain calm, but uneasiness blossomed in her chest. Tiny tendrils of fear were reaching into her bowels. If they were watered so, she could panic. She did not know why.
"I don’t think the police can help, Millie. Besides, I don’t even know what is in the envelope. And Shank gave it to me in confidence; I have received instructions from him about how to treat what he gave me." Reardon sounded defensive.
"Well, you can’t be both a lawyer and a judge, can you?"
She was right, of course. When he left the practice of law to become a judge, he should have called Shank in for a chat, and told him he would need new counsel. Why hadn’t he?
It was not a matter of oversight. Reardon cherished his role as Shank’s lawyer. It had a certain sashay. Lawyer to the stars. Even if no one else knew, Reardon knew that he was the man relied upon by the state’s best known criminal defense lawyer. A subtle rebound sort of fame. Reardon had not relinquished his role as Shank’s lawyer because he did not want to cut that bond to his past. And besides, there was rarely anything to do. He did not meet with Shank. He had long since stopped being paid by Shank. He was a mere custodian of an envelope. What was the harm in staying attached to the past?
"I’m not sure what I’m going to do," Reardon said.
"Well, I’m sure you’ll do the right thing; you always do."
Every marriage has such moments of despair, and all come down to the realization that the other, that mysterious presence who is by degree your completion, this other can also break your heart with kindness. There was nothing vindictive about Millie’s response. She believed in Jon. She trusted him to do the right thing. He was the most honorable man she knew. She was sure of him, and she had spoken the truth. Her response to him was kind and open, even if impotent. Reardon, on the other hand, heard the response as the creaking sound of a bridge being drawn over a moat. No way home now, he was alone with night sounds and fiendish things. He wanted help slaying a monster. What he got was a glowing affirmation of his role as beast-slayer. He felt betrayed.
"I’m sure your right, Millie." And beneath the surface, so subtle Millie could not discern it and Jon need not acknowledge it, the sound of him shoving off, cursing the womb that would not nurture him. As he rose to leave and kissed his wife’s cheek, he smelled Marcy’s cologne. He missed her. She would have understood.
The grip of this illusion comforted him as he drove away from the house. He did not stop to consider that were Marcy ever to have lived with him, were she to have removed him from the pedestal of distant desire, she’d have seen that he did not speed along on the wings of angel. No, Reardon was like most men, indeed, he was no different than any. No matter what the size, shape or intellect, the hunger for redemption must be fed, sacrifices must be offered up. And we are quickest to slay those we love.
The film crews were gathered at the front entrance of the courthouse, flies dancing on waste. Reardon passed them, and then entered the parking garage at the rear of the court.
"Good morning, Your Honor," the marshal said, waving him through.
"Morning, marshal." Reardon stopped calling the man by his name some time ago. The burden of intimacy was a load he didn’t need. There were few cars in the garage. The spaces reserved for other judges were all vacant. He wanted time to review briefs and some case law before the lawyers arrived.
A flashing light on his telephone caught his eye as he opened the door. Usually the secretaries took messages. He was far too impatient to listen all the way to the end of voice mail messages. In his mind, answering machines were a tool of some passive-aggressive terrorist. Yammer, yack, chatter and moan. Leave a long message. Make the listener go through the whole litany of your narcissism, and only then leave your number. Reardon preferred written messages. He could get right to the number that way and dispense with the sing-song whining of those forever and always in need.
A slangy voice, reedy sounding. It was the bottom of a gin bottle calling in for a refill.
"G’mornin’, judge," almost a contemptuous drawl. "Enjoy the tongue meat?" A chuckle and the sound of something clicking. "I hear that today you’re going so see the tongue’s owner." The chuckle again. "Give him my love."
Reardon went cold and his hands began to shake. He reached for a dictaphone. He wanted this message recorded. His hands shook and his heart was banging, asking to be let out, to flee and escape. As Reardon reached to replay the message, his hand hit the delete code, and not the rewind button. He sat stunned for a moment; stunned my his own stupidity. Or was it stupidity at all? Somehow he felt relieved. This was a secret he did not need now need to keep.