A Slice of Something Nice
Come morning, the ghosts calling for Reardon’s self-destruction had been driven back, far back, into a murky place Reardon could ignore. He could not hear them. But for a slightly hung-over feeling, Reardon might have wondered if they had ever existed. Despair was a friend. If he heeded its call, and entertained it with elaborate self-loathing and a good night’s sleep, it generally backed off. Only when he fought it and attempted to vanquish it, did things go from bad to worse.
Today looked like a good day. The sky was bright, and the air crisp. It was a New England morning in early autumn. There was a scent of apple cider in the air, and the dry wisp of illegally burnt leaves. Cold air braced bare cheeks. Everywhere there was a rosy glow of health and of serious purpose. Bright skies, here and there a touch of red in Maple leafs turning; gone suddenly the stifling humidity of summer. On a day like this Reardon could imagine wanting, really wanting, to live forever.
"The Antoine trial begins today?" Millie asking as they sat sharing coffee, oatmeal and morning’s paper.
"How long will it last?"
"It’s hard to say. Maybe a month; could be six weeks," Reardon replied.
Millie was apprehensive. This was Reardon’s first big trial as a judge. Would he become a stranger to her during this case? She recalled cases he had tried and long fitful nights when he argued all night long in his sleep. "Objection!" he would bellow at three o’clock in the morning. And then he’d awaken cheerful, as though he were well rested and raring to go. He, of course, would remember nothing of the night. He explained to her then when he went to court it all seemed so easy, as though he were merely reciting lines from a script already written. Millie assumed he wrote them in his sleep.
Would trial make him a stranger now as a judge?
"What’s the matter, Moops?" Reardon sensed her anxiety, and himself felt the morning-after guilt common after a night’s considering whether to abandon her and the cares of this world.
"Nothing, JJ." She took a sip of her coffee and reached for his hand. "I guess I don’t want to lose you to this trial."
Reardon set his paper down, and placed his hand over hers.
"You won’t lose me, Moops. I promise. It is not as though I am representing anyone in this case. I am the referee, remember?" He was smiling and wondering just how much of what he just said he actually believed. "Why don’t you come to lunch today at the courthouse? The lunch break is at one, and, Hell, it’s not as though they can start it all up again without me?"
Millie beamed. A lunch date? They had rarely found time for that while he practiced law.
"I don’t think I can, JJ. I have a closing in Dunford this afternoon. But you are so sweet to ask."
Reardon felt only slightly manipulative. He had glanced at her appointment book the afternoon before and knew she was not available. But still, points scored for thoughtfulness could always be banked against a future disappointment, and had her plans changed, he really could have gone to lunch with her. Somehow he had become almost comfortable with a habit of deceit in small things.
Millie kissed him on the forehead.
"I have to run, dear. I really do. What time will you be home?"
"No later than six, I suppose." Reardon still marveled at the new contours of his life. Were he still practicing law, he would never have dreamed of getting home by six. The hours between five and seven in the evening were gold rush time. A chance to mine for new clients, and to sift through the days telephone messages looking for nuggets.
Millie headed for the garage through the covered walkway. A brisk fall wind whipped breakers into the shoreline.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at the front of the house. Something was askew, but she could not quite place it. Something was out of place. She was running late, though, and whatever it was could wait.
She pulled out of the driveway and headed for town. Glancing to her left, she saw it, sitting smack dab in the middle of the porch. Someone had delivered a package. And it was wrapped in a bright red bow. It looked to be about the size of a shoe box. It was half-stuck in the mail box.
"JJ, there’s a package on the porch," she said into her cell phone. "I don’t have to time to stop."
The phone slipped between her shoulder and upper jaw. She reached for it with her right hand.
"I’m not expecting anything, are you? Well, call me if it is anything exciting. Love you."
"I here your going to judge over Marcus’ case. Do a good job. I here there are a lot of strange twists in the case. Your friend, Slice."
Reardon read the note again. It appeared to be written in crayon, appropriate enough given the spelling, and it was etched in large block letters across a department store advertisement in the previous day’s paper. The outer wrapping was the front page of the Belle Grande newspaper. On page one, a story announcing that trial was set to begin in the Marcus Antoine case. "From `Miracle’ To Murder? Antoine Case Set To Begin" read the headline. The headline was circled twice in red. Reardon was identified as the presiding judge. His name was circled, too.
On the table was a small zip-locked baggie and in it what looked to be a dried prune. On the bag was a folded note.
"I here The Shark cant try the case. I guess we know why."
It was the same block print; apparently the same crayon. This note was written on a piece of newspaper containing a story about The Shark’s mutilation. Several paragraphs of the story were dedicated to The Shark’s representation of Marcus Antoine. Those paragraphs were circled in black crayon.
Reardon poked at the shriveled prune with his breakfast spoon. There wasn’t much doubt in his mind that he was looking at the remains of Merlin Shank’s severed tongue. And there was now no doubt in his mind that his metaphysical navel gazing about whether something had happened to his client was now answered in a most physical manner.
Reardon replaced the tongue in the zip-log bag and placed it deep in the rear of the freezer in the basement. It was time to have a conversation with The Shark.
"Suppose he could give you Petrine. What could I get then?" Shamir was making one last effort to resolve the case against Antoine by way of a plea.
"Something like 25 or 30." Clarence Sterling winced as he spoke. His previous offer was 50 years to serve; he was willing to give something to make a case against Petrine. Somehow Sterling had acquired a habit of dealing in decades as though they were playing cards. Putting two cards back in the deck hurt.
"I don’t get it, judge. My client gives us a guy everyone in this room is willing to bet is a hit man and thug, and the State can’t do any better than 25 years to serve? Where’s the incentive?" Shamir was pleading his case to the judge now, ignoring the prosecutor.
"My hands are tied," Judge Nash said. "We could take the plea as a cap, if that helps sell it, but I won’t give him much slack. This was an execution," Mark. "He confessed to the crime."
"C’mon, judge, confessed to whom? Some strung out hooker looking to keep her pimp happy?"
"Your Honor, those are baseless and scurrilous allegations." Sterling loved to take aim from the moral high ground.
"The State has a point, Mark. You can’t link Rice to Petrine. And this business about Wanda being pushed by a pimp employing Petrine, it’s pretty far-fetched. Jury’s not going to buy it even if you can get it in to evidence." Nash twirled on the ends of his bow-tie as he spoke. He had the jury appeal of a squeaky wheel but had been entrusted by the State of Connecticut with the task of attempting to broker plea bargains with those accused of crimes.
"Is anybody here willing to even consider the possibility that this kid is innocent? Being present at a murder does not make you a co-conspirator," Shamir was leaning forward in his seat.
"Innocent men don’t keep secrets," Sterling said. He knew enough to keep silent what he was thinking. Truth sets men free, hadn’t Jesus himself said that?
"Yes, and frightened kids don’t talk," Shamir said.
"Well, this is why we have juries," Nash said. "If he pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy, I will hear you on sentencing, but he’ll be looking at a cap of 28 years. It would take a lot to have me sentence him to less. This is as good as it’s going to get, I’m afraid."
"That is acceptable to the State, Your Honor," Sterling said.
"It’s not going to happen judge. I’ll talk to him again; but it’s not going to happen."
"Well, if he wants the deal, he can plead before me. Otherwise, I will expect the two of you to report to Judge Reardon at two o’clock."