Entries categorized "Dark Justice, Norm's Fiction"

Chapter 34 -- Dark Justice

Warning: This is fiction, don't read if addicted to literalism.

War of the Words

Where do all the words go?

His daughter had asked him that one day when she was three and the world was fresh with her wonder.

"Daddy, where do all the words go?" Deep blue eyes invited him to travel innocently if he would but have the courage to dream.

"Words, sweetie?"

"Uhm hmm, Daddy. When I say them are they gone forever?" Something like sadness touched her.

"No, sweetheart," Reardon had said. "They go to heaven, and they stay there so that everyone has a chance to enjoy them."


"Imagination. You can go anywhere you can dream," he told her. Perhaps it was no wonder she’d been drawn to literature as a college student.

Reardon now had more prosaic means of preserving the words around him. He had a court reporter. And daily he labored over something lawyers call "the record."

Oh, you know the concept. You are standing half sauced at a bar, and in comes the mighty mouth of the South. He’s more stewed than you, and he’s on a rant. He has something he wants to say. All that is necessary is that he get it out, pry it out, if necessary, in some more or less orderly collection of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Grabbing the railing of the bar, he inhales deeply, pitching from side to side. Both hands now steadying himself, he belches. "And I will state for the record." Does that mean he now means to be taken seriously, belches and all?

We all want records of our life, and we busily seek to create them. The trouble is we can’t stop others from recording what they see.

Reardon recalled seeing, as an adolescent, a little pocket-sized comic book created by fundamentalist Christians. It was judgment day. God had a record of each word spoken; worse yet, God had a record of each conscious thought. A tormented soul on the eve of eternity shuddered as his secret lust was magnified on the divine viewing screen. Why, he had once looked at a woman with desire. Come brimstone; come fire; come damnation with no hope for relief. The comic book was prepared before Jimmy Carter pathetically announced that he was guilty, oh, so guilty, of lust in his heart.

Now Reardon had a chance to play god among men. He was the master of his own record. Lesser mortals in his presence could be compelled to squeeze every word into a salvageable form. And, like God on judgment day, Reardon could review the record of all that he surveyed before reaching his more mundane judgments.

But how much is enough? Judging a man for vagrant thoughts and the haphazard contents of desire seemed extreme. Aristotle counseled moderation. Moderation in all things? Well, how to moderate the desire for perfection? Does one draw a mean between perfection and, well, what, the mere lack of perfection, or, perhaps, evil? Reardon closed his eyes for a moment and saw a dark forest. There were trees present, but as his thoughts veered this way and that, he saw a fog rising. Thick, grey swirling vapors swallowed lonely pines. Perfect, evil, moderation, a mean; all now ingredients of some sickly existential soup. He knew where all this would lead: despair, indecision and solitary scotch before a fire. He must will it to stop. But will requires something firm on which to stand. A paper pushed by a hurricane stands no chance of resisting; it darts in the pell-mell fury of nature’s rage. Will requires roots, even if febrile and easily overcome. A blade of grass can stand, like Luther, and declare that it can do other, even as it is driven into Earth by the world’s machinery.

How much of a record is enough?

Reardon had long ago decided that how a judge treats his or her record was in fact a litmus test of the judge’s ambition and a barometer of his sense of self-importance.

There are judges who will never meet with a lawyer outside the presence of their court reporter. For these judges, the record is both sword and shield. Like bats in hermetically sealed belfries, these judges know the shape of each wall, the interior of each turret, of the castles in which they are imprisoned. To speak to such a judge requires the willingness, or, perhaps, the compulsion, to cross over the moat of informality and into a world so solemn each word is preserved for all time; sacred pebbles to be collected, savored and then tossed, either in celebration while sunning on the beachhead of success, or darted at those who come too close to undermining ambition.

These judges are bucking for stardom. They will never be at the center of a controversy about what was or was not said, by golly. Every word they ever utter in their role as jurist is on tape or packed away in some computer terminal. Slave to their records, these judges are not to be trusted. Sterile, they bob, weave and then preen in the presence of the ever-present tapping fingers of their only friend, the civil servant whose job it is to hang on their every word.

No, Reardon had decided he would never live like that. He would not live inside the sterile confines of such a bubble.

His vision of a the perfect judge was that of a problem solver. And lawyers bring nothing but problems to a court of law. The law’s great stories are not told on the record. Indeed, the law’s great stories are often never told at all.

A lawyer meeting in the dead of night with a client to prepare for trial learns sobering truths. These truths reflect less about the facts that will be marshaled before judge or jury. No, the deeper truths are truths that cannot be told. How fear can warp a man and transform him into an angry exclamation point, blind to everything but the imperative to strike before he is hurt again. How time passes some poor souls by, leaving them smaller and smaller in their mind’s eye until, suddenly, they will be heard, and the molehills over which they have tumbled become Alpine reaches they will now force others to scale. Freud, a student of the deeper reaches? Please. He controlled his record; his clinical notes and pithy essays a testament to his creativity. Dostoevsky? His underground man wrote and rewrote the record he used to portray himself.

Few know the subterranean turf of human desire so well as a trial lawyer. Why? Because he must keep his client’s secrets. He must tell the client’s story. He must build a home with the sticks and twigs at hand. That means that a lawyer, a trial lawyer, a lawyer whose task it is to make another’s record, must seem a fool. Common speech and the banal gestures of the courtroom are his tools. Somehow, he must use these tools to reflect the world his client inhabits. See now the hubble of stick and twig; but who, tell me, save the lawyer and perhaps his client can hear the wolf howling at the door?

The perfect judge knows when to let the record be silent. A simple side bar. A quiet word to put the blind fury into context. The perfect judge knows a lawyer’s fear. The rage of a client willing to sue is easily turned against a lawyer who cannot succeed in making real for others a solitary and lonely terror. Reardon had vowed to be a perfect judge. His record would not become a cage; nor would it be a wall to separate him from the lawyers appearing before him. That was a commitment he made when he took the bench. He vowed to be rooted in something other than fear, or vanity. It was a vow he hoped would withstand the tempests to come.

"Judge Reardon, counsel in the Antoine case are here and would like to see you." His clerk stood in the door of his chambers.

"Who is out there?" Reardon asked.

"Sterling, Shamir and Shank," the clerk said.


"Yes, sir." The clerk’s eyes danced, two nymphs at play.

"Well, in that case, call Glenda. I am not going to meet the lawyers in this case without a record," Reardon said.

He would settle for something less than perfection in this case.

Dark Justice --33

Warning: The following is fiction intended for mature audiences.

Temperature Rising

"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.

Dark Justice -- Chapter 32

Marking Time on the Color Line

Let’s take a walk along the color line, shall we? There is no way to straddle it. One is either on one side or the other. Accidents of birth make it that way. One can no more help being born white than black. Yet the line divides, and in the criminal courts, it conquers. See the defendant? More often than not he is black and young. See the judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer? White, white and white again. Let’s add jurors. Another scoop of vanilla. Oh, there may be a symbolic chocolate chip in the mass of white. Maybe there will be two. But in Connecticut, as in the slave docks of colonial Virginia, the bidders are white, and that upon which bids are cast, black. We don’t call it slavery any longer. The slaves have been emancipated, right? No, now we call it justice. And we deal out years, decades and lifetimes.

"I say 50 years," the prosecutor bids.

"No, no. Too much judge. Make it 20," the defense lawyer counters.

On the bench Solon sits, reckoning the value. Wise, he ponders.

"The sentence will be 40 years," he bellows.

Another black man led away in chains. Placed in a new slave hold.

No law enacted and engraved in statute book makes it so. But the color line divides as effectively as a steel cage. A color blind society? We kid ourselves. It is color blind so long as it lacks color. All white? Then no color; no problem. As though white were not a color, indeed, the least interesting color of all. The color of a scar.

Yeah, race matters. Race hurts. Wake up, America. You are in the midst of a guerilla war. A race war, submerged and fought in silent corridors and attitudes.

Too cynical, you say? Why look, look at the black faces sitting so close to power in Washington. Oh, yeah. Uncle Tom’s Oval Office, courtesy of Condoleeza, or is it Condie?, Rice. Movin’ all the way up, as much a stereotype as the sit-com characters who aspired to nothing more than a high-rise perch on the East Side of Manhattan. She was black at birth and then spent a lifetime preening to pass as something other. She won; another victim. Another subversive victory for the Ku Klux Klan.

Race matters. It is a gift of sorts in this land of ours to be born white.

Consider jury selection. The court sends letters. They are called summonses, actually. Ordinary folks are ordered to appear in court on a given day and time. They are to assemble as peers of the accused. All names drawn at random. But the lists from which they are drawn are not random. Registered voters? Those who have registered a motor vehicle? A new property qualification. We’re not talking conventional property here. One needn’t own 40 acres and a mule to serve. But potential jurors are required to have made an investment in the present order of things.

Vote? Sure, I’ll flip my coin for Tweedledum or Tweedledee. Own a car? Yes, I have saved enough, and the wolf is far enough from my door to venture safely on the roads. The peers we invite to serve are a privileged lot. They can worry about capital gains taxes, progressive income taxes and the cost of a motor vehicle registration. They have cleared the most basic hurdles distinguishing citizen and barbarian.

Peers? Of whom? That white bitch Oprah Winfrey and her reading lists? You can’t fool me. She’s not black. It’s a trick. Another triumph of the make-up artist; were she gussied up in lamp black and tap-dancing on a stage she’d be no blacker than she is preening between soap operas. The queen of the vanilla-lite club of literati who want their crises presented in simple sounds and sound bytes?

Or is the jury drawn from the peers of our public men, the great senators who write puerile travelogues with their wives and run for president, all the while acting like it is such a thrill to live lives devoted to manipulation and the imperative to offend no one who could possibly make a campaign contribution? Or our public intellectuals, writing books and giving lectures about what is good, true and just? What dead white ghosts lurk the world looking for a perch?

Why not round up all the young men standing at a street corner passing joints and bottles of cheap wine? Place them in a jury box and let them listen to a police officer talk about how he just lucked into a confession, or how a car’s driver looked suspicious.

Why not head to a soup kitchen and ask all assembled to c’mon down to the courthouse and help us determine what happened? We’ll spring for the lunch, of course. But no sequestration for you. Back to the streets at night. Find a warm grate in the winter, and a quiet park in the summer. But you are our peers, are you not? Let’s look at the world through the other end of the kaleidoscope. What images might we see?

Or try the single mother who cannot find, or hold, a job. No skills. Screaming kids, and dead beat dads who’ve left her alone with a litter of souls stunted at birth. One step ahead of the social service saviors who’d snatch her babies and place them with strangers. Whose peer is she? Not that of any juror who has recently decided a man’s fate.

Peers at jury duty? Perish the thought. Better we settle for something less. Give us your tired, your conventional, your deracinated masses yearning to be let alone and resentful of the least stir in the wind. Let them judge our acts and omissions. Let them deliver souls for a dark passage.

Our jurors? Lilly white and privileged. There are a few people of color tossed in for good measure. No question about it. But they are like the dots on a gambler’s die. Roll the cube as many times as you like, you’ll never see more than a few black specks swimming in a sea of white. So it is with jury service. At least, so it goes in Belle Grande, where Marcus Antoine will look for peers.

But why digress?

"Good morning, gentlemen," Reardon was behind his desk in his chambers. The prosecutor and public defender were sitting side by side across from him. A clerk temporarily assigned to the judge hovered nearby. The kid looked so pleased to be there that he made everyone nervous.

"Morning, Judge," Shamir was a mumbler in the morning.

"Good morning, Your Honor," Sterling chirped.

"Let’s talk some about scheduling. Are there any motions that need to be decided prior to trial?"

All the lip-service in the world about the importance of juries will not change for a moment the fact that a jury only sees what a judge permits it to observe. Before a juror ever steps foot in a courthouse, lawyers generate reams of paper designed to prevent unflattering facts and factors from surfacing. The law calls this subterranean work motion practice. All is quiet in the adversarial world until one side stirs.

"Yes, judge. I have several," Shamir said. Both Shamir and The Shark had filed motions. Most of these had been filed more than a year earlier. "I am looking to suppress the photo identification of my client by Wanda, um, Wanda Rice, and by the male prostitute, I forget his name. I am also looking to suppress statements Mr. Antoine made while in the lock up. I am also moving to prevent the State from offering consciousness of guilt evidence."

"Well, Your Honor, our Supreme Court is clear that consciousness of guilt evidence is proper," Sterling said.

"Wait, wait," Reardon said. "Save the arguments for later. I am just trying figure out what has to be done, and how long it will take." Lawyers never understood how little a judge knew about a case. A good lawyer worries his case night and day, turning each fact over in his mind. These issues are sprung on judges, greyhounds darting at the track, racing neck and neck. Quick, judge, quick. Declare a winner.

"We’ll bring in a panel of jurors tomorrow and start jury selection. Let’s try to resolve all these motions before we begin evidence."

Reardon had never tried cases with either lawyer, although he knew of them.

"How long do you expect jury selection to last?" he asked.

"At least three weeks, your Honor," Sterling said.

"I agree," said Shamir. He appeared to want approval for agreeing with Sterling.

"And the evidence," said Reardon. "How long will the State’s case take?"

"Two weeks," your Honor.


"A couple of days, judge." Shamir said.

"Fine. I will tell the jurors that the trial will begin in four weeks. We can sort out the pre-trial motions, and have plenty of time to pick. Any objections?"

Both lawyers were silent.

"Judge, as a courtesy, I wanted you to know that Merlin Shank will be appearing with me in this case," Shamir said.

"Isn’t he disabled?" Reardon said.

"Yes. He can hardly speak. But he knows the players here. He’ll be co-counsel and he can write notes as needed."

Indeed, thought Reardon. Notes. The Shark’s note to Reardon was still unopened in his desk.

Dark Justice -- Chapter 31

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."

Dark Justice -- Chapter 30

Who Put the Ass in Assignation?

Max figured it was all a matter of marketing. Building name recognition was the key. His goal was to put a little assignation in every household, or at least on every computer. Word would spread. Old McDonald used be to some crummy old farmer, now he’s king of burger world. So Max got himself hooked up on the Internet. Hired a geek from the local college and a couple of high school kids to make a web page, and, lucky him, he was soon doing business as www.assignation.net. He was cooking on all burners, Max was. Operating a shopping mall of vice.

Of course, Max didn’t understand squat about computers. He knew lust and cash, and how to make one yield the other. The Internet, Hell, that was just another aphrodisiac, right? The only limit he put on the kids hooking him up to outer space was to avoid kiddie porn. "If the broads ain’t old enough to be your mom or older sister, dump ‘em." No way Max was gonna become some Bubba’s butt boy for pedaling pictures of kids.

The kids who set up his Internet empire and who tweaked it week by week made Max nervous. A nerdy bunch. Pasty looking dorks with hollow eyes and greasy looking hair. Always smelled like, well, a hamper of soiled sheets. Figured the kids couldn’t get enough of the product. He paid them top dollar, or so he thought. Little pencil necked geeks pulling down five or six hundred tax-free bucks a week. He figured he owned ‘em. Told ‘em to keep their mouths shut, and not to spoil a good thing. Max didn’t understand the little dweebs.

One thing Max had was a good ear. He’d be sitting at some diner, and a waitress over across the room would saunter up to a table. "Whadillit be, baby?" with that sleepy sort of bedroom charm. Didn’t matter if the speaker weighed 350 pounds and moonlighted as the dead weight at some weight-lifting club. A silky satin-like voice, now that was hot. Stick ‘em on the other end of the phone, and who’d know what they looked like. Give a pin up of some bimbo to look at, he thought at first. Then he realized didn’t need to tell them what they were supposed to look like. Madison Avenue took care of that. These broads were hungry, too. It didn’t take long for each of ‘em to start hawking themselves as long, lean, sex machines. He paid them half of what he got for each call. A good girl, one who knew how to get the point, could handle three or four guys an hour when things were hopping. Some of the girls made a hundred bucks an hour.

So business was booming, and Max was beginning to branch out, to diversify. He could listen in on the calls, and soon he had a sense of what the market was looking for. He made sure he had a voice for every fantasy.


"Dude, like you won’t believe who’s been doing the nasty on the hot line." Martin Defall, sixteen, was sitting across from his best friend at lunch.

"Yo, yo, yo, give it to me baaaa-beee."

"I was like cleaning the files, and I kept seeing this same cookie, so I back-tracked it and then called a friend at the phone company for help. Like, you won’t believe this, but it’s some high roller on the Supreme Court." Martin was describing the electronic calling card each visitor left at the Internet site. Most users were too unsophisticated to know that they left a fingerprint of sorts on each page at which they leered.

Lester Fuchs was stunned. His step-father, Harmon Fitzgerald, was a justice on the state Supreme Court. He was suddenly able to put his finger on what bothered him about the man. For a moment, he fantasized about throwing him out, and protecting his mother’s honor.

"Dude, dude. It ain’t your step-fodder. I checked."

Lester was lost still in a reverie.

"Like I checked the sites he visited, and then I ran the phone logs," Martin was stuffing french fries into a pimply face. "They guy’s been all over the She Devil’s page. Called her eight times one week. `Oh, whip me, Satan.’" Martin dropping his voice to a deep judicial baritone.

"You, you sure it’s not him," Lester asked. How to refer to his step-father was always a problem. Although he rarely saw his father, he could not bring himself to call Fitzgerald "dad." And he never called him Mr. Fitzgerald; from the day they met, he was encouraged simply to call him by his first name, Harmon. Talking about Harmon with his friends was always weird. This stranger in his home was neither father nor friend. Lester usually just referred to Harmon as "him," and let the context define the content.

"Yeah, hey don’t sweat it, dude. I didn’t mean to rattle you, man," Martin now trying to be solicitous, wiping the ketchup from the creases of his mouth with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. "I even called the number the guy calls from, check it out. He calls from the court. You can hear him. `You’ve reached Justice Spiceman’s private line.’‘ Playing judge again, his voice cracking as he reaches for a low note.

"Spiker?" Lester’s eyebrows arched now, a falsetto of surprise causing others to turn and look. "Yo, dude, are you sure?" Lester whispering now, and suddenly drugged by the irresistible power of gossip. "He’s tight with, with, the H-bomb," that was as close as he dared display any intimacy with Harmon. "He, like, comes to our house with his wife."

""Dude, like, what can I tell you? It’s wired, l mean, it’s him."

Plans were hastily made to meet after school that very day so that Lester could verify for himself Spiker’s secret tutelage to the She Devil.

"Assignations," Max took a drag from a cigarette while the caller explained his purpose. It was Monday morning, early. Not a lot to choose from at this hour.

"Yeah, yeah. This is me." Sitting up straight now. This was no ordinary call.

"Good morning, Your Honor. Always a pleasure." It was Arlen Spiker and love was not in the air.

"What? It ain’t possible."

"Judge, look, it ain’t possible." Spiker was jabbing out sentences in rapid succession. Max was trying to fend off each blow.

"Naw, naw. Look. We got a security system. A fire hall, or something." Max never could keep straight what all the geeks told him about the computer.

"Yeah, yeah, I hear ya."

"You what? Let me hear it."

Spiker was so angry he was panting. He had just told Max that someone had called his private line at the Court, twice, over the weekend, leaving messages both times. It was some kid speaking with a falsetto voice. Pretending to be one of the phone workers. "Deal with it!" Spiker kept screaming.

The two men listened together. Once the panic passed, Max giggled to himself. It was some kid goofing on the judge. No talent in lust-mongering for this kid. Trying to act all hot and bothered and croaking about whips and chains. The call ended with a chilling twist. "This is the She Devil, and I know where you live."

"Look, Judge, I’ll deal with it."

Spiker would not shut up. This could ruin him. If he went down, Max was going with him. Totally out of control. Max was waving the phone around the room to avoid having to listen.

"Judge, judge. I’ll deal with it, all right?"

Spiker cooled some. Max figured he needed to vent some.

"You what?" Now Max was listening.

"Whaddaya mean you think you know the kid?"

Max taking notes now.

"How sure are you?"

Max rubbing his temples.

"He’s whose kid?"

Max looked out the window and wondered whether it was time to fold up shop and head for the islands. He had money set aside. His plan was to bolt before he ever got pinched for keeps.

"You willing to bet the ranch on this one, judge?"

Max was taking notes, and shaking his head from side to side. He was capable of murder all right. One of the geeks was flapping his gums. Max would figure out who.

"Look, sit tight. Do nothing, judge. I’ll deal with it. And, hey, if you need a little something, or someone, to unwind, let me set you up. Anything you want. On me. Okay, pal?"

It took a few minutes more to get the judge off the phone, and then Max sat silently staring at the pad of paper.

Lester Fuchs. Harmon Fitzgerald’s kid.

"Shit," Max said aloud. Another justice’s son goofing on Spiker? Goofing on him with information that could only have come from Max’s computer system.

It was time to arrange an assignation, all right. Max reached for his phone and dialed a number.

"Yeah," Petrine said. It was early and the damn phone was screaming.

"Yeah," it was Max.

Max needed him to have a talk with Lester Fuchs. Just a talk, mind you. Nothing rough. Tell the kid to develop a new hobby.

Piece of cake, Petrine thought.

Chapter 29 -- Dark Justice

Home Delivery

Some days the temptation to kill himself was almost overwhelming. He couldn’t say where the urge came from. But there were nights he’d imagine himself sitting on the window ledge of a tall building, back to the street, window wide open, and a pistol in his hand. In one motion he would place the barrel in his mouth, pull the trigger and tumble backwards to oblivion. If lucky, the bullet’s impact would put an end to the pain. Bad luck would leave the finishing touch to the pavement, floors below. He believed enough in divine spite to have planned how best to avoid the cruelty of botching a suicide.

Was Reardon serious? He seemed so those nights he lay silently in bed, pretending to be asleep so that he would not be forced to try to name and sort his feelings. Mornings after such silent nights were better. Having kept his vigil, he need not try to explain the despair. No need to reassure Millie and explain about how much it hurt some days to look at the world and lack the conviction he had actually seen it.

It didn’t help matters that his daughter was home just now from college. He loved her, of that he was more or less sure. But she was becoming foreign, and she was changing more rapidly than he could fathom. And the changes he could understand, he did not like.

"Well, the point is, Dad, that there is no there, there."

All earnest now. A graduate student at New York University strutting her stuff. Fresh from a course on post-modern literary criticism.

"You see, the text itself does not exist. We create the text." Maura’s tone was condescending. She had been released from Greenwich Village for a quick trip to the hinterland, a missionary to the great unwashed.

Reardon felt trapped. She needed something from him, some acknowledgment that she was doing new and great things.

"That sounds about right," he said.

"What sounds about right?" A challenge. The image shouting at the mirror and challenging its reflection.

"That how we interpret things differs."

"That’s not the point at all, Dad." She threw one leg over the back of a high, high horse, and was preparing to gallop.

"Oh? Well, I am afraid I just don’t get it then, Maura."

"I hate it when you are so condescending and arrogant," she puffed.


"Yeah, like when you pretend not to get it and then launch into some, some didactic and improving tone."

Reardon was lost now. A didactic tone?

"Maura, I..."

"You simply don’t take my work seriously," Maura said. She was astride her mount now. She was ready to take on the world, and had forgotten, in this flush of anger, that there was no there, there.

"That’s not really fair, Maura."

"Here we go again. Always the lawyer. What now, a lecture on justice?" He could still see in her the little girl who had snuggled on his lap and lapped at her cocoa while he read her stories about ghosts, goblins and witches. Why must she work so hard to kill that child?

"I’m sorry, Maura."

"Sorry implies fault, dad, and some ontic structure. I am beyond all that."

Silence now from Reardon.

"I’ve got to go, dad."

Reardon rose. Did he dare a hug, or at least a kiss on the forehead?

"I’ll call you and mom when I get back."

And with that, Maura galloped off to Greenwich Village.

That was several hours ago, and Reardon was sitting in a brocade, over-stuffed chair. On his lap, the newspaper and a volume of literary criticism he’d bought from the bookstore. He wanted to try to understand Maura. He was dosing now, trying to find his connection to the places and events described in the newspaper. Millie was out showing a waterfront property to a young doctor. She was excited by the prospect of the sale, and had worked hard to cultivate the trust of the potential buyer.

Marcus Antoine’s case would be his first high-profile criminal trial as a judge. He had not yet laid eyes on Antoine, but he could see his face. Wide nostrils, shiny black skin, tight corn rows clinging snake-like to his head. Antoine was angry. Antoine was scared. He saw the man child weep. And he saw him kill. He saw a powerful limb slashing, again and again, at the corpse of a boy, wild arcs of blood spurting into the night.

This vision of Marcus the killer startled him. The trial had not begun. Reardon had not yet taken possession of the court file in the case. Already he had visions of the man’s guilt? Without evidence, already a story forming in his mind?

The papers, of course, and the television news, they were responsible. They had convicted Antoine already. One paper called the young man another Mike Tyson. Reardon had reviewed a few news stories that afternoon. Motions were already being filed by some of the networks for permission to televise the trial. Court TV’s motion had an appendix containing news stories designed to show how important the case was, and why televising the trial was in the interest of justice.

Marcus had stabbed and slashed the son of a Supreme Court justice to death. The world needed to see that we are governed by law. Evil can strike even at the bosom of the high and the mighty, and it must be returned with the calm and measured cadence of law. Or so the lawyers for Court TV wrote. Why didn’t these lawyers ever seek to televise a bankruptcy hearing? Aren’t the high and the mighty laid low with the calm precision of law in those courtrooms? No blood on display there; no atavistic passion. No ratings, therefore no public interest.

Reardon intended to deny the motions. In fact, he had already done so, with a terse, one-line ruling he’d declared: "Motion denied. No compelling public interest will be served by departing from this state’s long-standing reluctance to televise trials."

The rulings would be handed to the media’s lawyers in the morning. He would do so, that is, unless he found a window ledge on which to sit. There was a stiffness in his head, two shoots of despair reaching up along each side of his head and clamping on familiar blinders. No matter where he looked, he saw futility. Why not put an end to it now? Why tolerate the suspense? Chance’s plaything waiting daily, for what? The jab of a cancerous growth alerting him to the arrival of an excruciating form of decay? Or perhaps the errant thump of an arrhythmia serving as a prelude to the vise that would shut down his chest? Or maybe the head-on collision with the drunken driver, pointed his way by chance?

Nothing satisfied, at least not for long.

He’d graduated high school, then college, then law school. A triumphant trifecta that exceeded his expectations. He’d passed through these challenges almost as though sleep walking. Always memorizing his lines. And then his own law practice. More lines to memorize, the task easier now because he was required to inquire no further than the imperatives of each case. Now a judge. A steady arc of success, all right. A beautiful wife, an enviable home, a daughter foundering through the travails of privilege. He had it all didn’t he?

Always the actor. Always the ability to say the right thing at the right time. Always memorizing his lines. A faithful student of some hidden imperative that was now aching to be set free.

He would put the barrel of the pistol in his mouth. He could feel the cold steel, and smell the acrid oil. The trigger guard belly up, like a whale at the beach. Trip the safety, and then, what? It took but little to trip the trigger. He imagined his mouth filling with gases, and then a hammer releasing the pressure in his mind. Tumbling backward now, he glances off a decorative awning, and falls hard with a welcoming thud.

He put the tumbler of scotch down next to him, and let the book on his lap fall to the floor as he stood up. He was cold now. Starting a fire was too much of a bother. The blinders of his despair narrowed his vision, and he saw only the couch. He lay on his back, with hands crossed, taking grim satisfaction in the image of himself snug in a coffin. There was a roaring in his head, rhythmic and velvet-like. No sorrow now. No anger. No fear. He was becoming numb. And sleepy, so very sleepy.

He never heard the rusty hinge of his mail box opening and then closing. He never saw the man with pock-marked face, and slicked back blonde hair. He never saw the shine of the black leather jacket as it slithered off into the shadows.

Jonathan Reardon had played out another death, reciting the lines just so. While he slept, a package had been delivered. A small package. It was a gift of sorts. It was a gift Peter Petrine had waited a long time to deliver.

Dark Justice -- Chapter 28

Trial Time

"I ain’t doing it," Marcus Antoine’s nostrils flared as he spoke. There was a beauty and dignity to his anger that moved Shamir.

"What do you mean you’re not doing it?" Shamir was speaking from the other side of the cage. "Trial starts Monday. You have to be there."

"I ain’t going to no trial." Antoine sat with arms folded.

Mark Shamir was used to resistance. He had served as a public defender for two decades. He’d lost track of the number of times his clients had derided him for not being a real lawyer, or, he loved this one, for being a "public pretender." But it was a rare client who out and out refused to attend his own trial. Shamir figured that Antoine’s anger would pass, and that they would find common ground. It would take some time. That’s all.

"Well, here is what will happen. It will take maybe a month to pick the jury, a week to hear motions and then the trial will take about two weeks. I figure two months soup to nuts."

"Soup to what?"

"It’s just a way of talking, Marcus. I figure the trial will take about two months."

"I ain’t doing it, man. I ain’t gonna sit up there for two months while everybody stares at me like I’m some monkey on a leash. It ain’t gonna happen."

"Marcus, I called your mom and asked her to bring you a suit and some shirts. You don’t have to go upstairs in your yellows." Even men presumed innocent, but unable to make bond, were subject to all the rules and regulations applicable to sentenced inmates. Marcus Antoine wore a yellow jump suit. His torso strained against the suit. He remained in shape at the weight room while awaiting trial.

"Man, I didn’t tell you to do that. Leave her out of it."

"I’m sorry, Marcus. But time is short."

"Time, man, I ain’t gonna do nothin’ but time. When’s the last time a black man walked out of this courthouse? I read the papers. Every cracker in the state has it in their head that I killed some justice’s son. I even seen a picture of the crying momma on television yesterday. How’m I gonna get a fair trial?"

"That’s what jury selection is all about, Marcus. You’d be surprised how many people don’t read the papers or watch the news. You’ll see. But you have to be there."

"Man, I ain’t going. You can talk from now until your hair falls out. I ain’t gonna go and get lynched."

"Marcus, the trial will go forward with you or without you. If you refuse to show up, how’s that going to look? The jury will think you’re hiding because you’re scared, and that you’re scared because you are guilty."

"I did not kill that kid. I don’t know how many times I got to tell you," Marcus screaming now. "I was there, but I did not know it was going down until that Petrine dude pulled the knife. It was over before I even knew what was happening." Antoine was up pacing now, and breathing hard, trying to keep himself under control.

"I know, Marcus." Shamir believed him. Of course, Shamir learned long ago not to trust his gut on whether a client was truthful with him. By the time a case was reached for trial, Shamir always believed his client. He called it advocate’s disease. Perhaps that was the way the system is supposed to work.

Antoine wanted to believe Shamir. But when had a white man ever believed in Antoine off the football field? Walk into a department store and there are eyes everywhere, always on you. So much as look at something and get some nervous clerk running up to you. "Can I help you, sir?" You know all they want to do is help you out the door.

Or walking down the street at dark. How many times had he seen an old white woman, or even an old white man, glance nervously at him, all the while calculating whether there was still time to cross the street? And let’s not even talk about driving. Every black man knew the code. Driving while black could be a big problem in most neighborhoods. It’s not a crime, at least in so far as the law books are concerned. But drive down some high-rent street about dusk and you better pray the car is in tip-top shape. Turn a corner without signaling? That’ll earn a stop and frisk by the man. Signal too soon? That’s suspicion right there. White men were white devils, at least most of the time.

Antoine trusted The Shark. He was cold. He’d kill his mama if he had to. Every guy on the cell block had heard of him. The Shark had represented some. Sure, he lost cases, but he was straight up, and a cold-blooded killer.

But now Antoine got stuck with some public offender, as he called him. Some lazy ass cracker dude who didn’t know hustle. Didn’t want to know hustle. Content to have his life handed to him like some baby bottle. Nipping at the State’s tit all his life. In bed with the State; a butt-boy to the judge. Antoine needed a warrior, and what did he get? Some dude without enough game to do his own thing.

"I said, I ain’t going." Marcus didn’t want to hear it any more.

"Marcus, you’ve got ..."

"Yo, yo, guard. Get me the fuck out of here. Now." Antoine storming at the door on his side of the interview room, banging shackled fists on the door.

"They can have my black ass for killing that punk. But they ain’t gonna get to stare at me like that." Antoine was screaming now. His cell door opened.

"You tell that judge he can kiss my black ass."

Shamir made a note of the name on the guard’s nameplate. Captain Omar. If he knew Clarence Sterling, Omar’s name would be on the state’s witness list once jury selection began. "Question: And what, if anything did Mr. Antoine say? "Answer: He said, ‘They can have my black ass for killing that punk."

No attorney-client privilege there. Antoine was screaming for a guard, and clearly speaking in such a way that others could not help but hear his despair.

Shamir could keep the odds of that happening low by not letting the judge or Sterling know that Antoine was refusing to attend trial. No would ask questions down in the cell block that way.

Shamir left the jail in better spirits than his meeting with Antoine warranted. There was not much doubt in his mind that Antoine would attend trial. He was just blowing steam. He’d calm down some and do the right thing.

What surprised Shamir, though, was the presence of several news crews outside the courthouse when he returned from the jail. Channels five, seven and nine were already there. And Shamir recognized a couple of print reporters, too. Word had traveled fast. He had only been informed hours earlier that the case had been called in for trial.

"Mr. Shamir, Mr. Shamir," Betsy Harrow was running after him, microphone in hand and cameraman at her heels.

"Will Mr. Antoine testify?"

Shamir chuckled. Should he tell the truth?

"We doubt that will be necessary," Shamir said, suddenly conscious of the fact that he was wearing a white shirt. He’d learned long ago that blue is best for television. White made you look pasty and added weight. Blue somehow softened the hues.

"Will he testify about the others who were involved in the murder?"

Shamir stopped and turned to face the camera lens. Looking into it and mustering all the conviction he could manage, he said: "Mr. Antoine is innocent. He is not a murderer. The state knows this. I know it. Soon a jury will, too."

Shamir let the glass door close behind him as he continued into the courthouse and into his office. The cameramen were not permitted inside the building. Only the print reporters followed him inside.

"How’d you know so quickly that we were set in this case? I only found out this afternoon," Shamir asked a reporter for the Belle Grande Times.

"Press release," said the reporter. Shamir could not remember his name.

"Press release? Who?" He’d never seen a release done prior to trial.

"This once came from the chief prosecutor’s office in Harleton."

"Great," said Shamir. "Just great." The chief’s office wasn’t even handling this one, and still they are hawking the case. Getting the word out to jurors. Turning up the heat.

"You got a copy of the release?" Shamir asked.

"Yeah. Here you go."

"Marcus Antoine case set to begin on Monday. Former football star accused in the killing of Lester Fuchs, step-son of Justice Harmon Fitzgerald."

Nothing inflammatory there. No grounds to claim that the State was trying to tamper with the jury pool. Pure vanilla. But also pure poison. Repeat the accusation often enough and plenty of people, in fact, most people, will accept it as a fact.

Dark Justice -- Chapter 27

The Capiche Leash

"Just stick to the script and you’ll be fine." Max was talking, but whether she was listening was hard to tell. She sat with arms folded over one another, bent at the waist and rocking back and forth. Beads of sweat were on her forehead.

"Wanda. Wanda, listen to me." He’d like to belt her one. Smack her from here to Long Island. She was dumb.

"Wanda. This is the game you agreed to play. Remember?"

She was nodding now. Eager to please, but scared. She began to panic again, her head swirling and her insides retreating into a whirlwind that left her nothing but shivering skin and frail bones.

"Wanda. They are going to interview you again, and you are going to have to tell them what you told them before. It’s no big deal." Max now charming, exuding the sort of bonhomie that usually worked with his girls.

"I, I, ,,," Wanda’s lip trembled, and tears escaped the corner of her eyes.

"It ain’t true, Mr. Greenberg," frightened eyes looked to Max. "He never said none of that stuff."

Wanda, Wicked Wanda Rice had discovered religion? Max was angry and stunned. She used to be one of his top earners. Then she got a little too puffy around the eyes, and Max set her up working a phone bank in an above-board telemarketing shop. When she wasn’t crying and whimpering, she had a decent voice, and she could most often avoid words like ain’t.

"Well, Wanda, let’s talk some about the truth, shall we?" Max confident now. He was a good puppeteer and she was simply crafted.

"The truth is that you love your daughter, isn’t that right, Wanda?"

She nodded.

"How old is she now, eight, nine?"

"She, she’s nine."

"She still over there at St Anne’s?" He knew she was a student there; he was paying her tuition.

"Uhm, hmm," Wanda began to rock again, her insides collapsing into a hole.

"Well, I know how much you love her." Max speaking slowly now.

"And how much it means for you to have her home with you."

"Wanda, the cops find out you lied on a statement, you could go to jail. Perjury. Five years."

She nodded.

"And then where does your baby go, Wanda, the state?"

Wanda nodding again.

"As I see it, you got no choice, here, babe. I see you studying your lines and nailing the script, don’t you?"

Wanda nodded again. The panic ebbed, leaving her adrift on a deep, dark pool of despair. Max had tricked her into lying for him. She worked as an escort for him. She didn’t much like the work, but the money was good. She wore expensive clothing and went to dinners, the theater and, over and over and over again she went to hotels, motels and condominiums where she would close her eyes and pretend each time that Raoul was whispering in her ear that he would always love her. She would pretend that each night was the night her baby was conceived.

Then Max told her he needed a favor. He needed her to say that some football player had boasted about slicing the throat of a kid. She had balked, and then Max told her she had no choice. He said the police were going to arrest her for prostitution, and that the State would then take her baby. The only way she could save herself and her family was to meet with an officer. She had to tell him that she could not have been the prostitute they saw at the Grande Hotel during a stake out one fall night. She had an alibi. She was with a football player.

Max rehearsed her lines with her for half a day, and showed her a dozen photographs of Marcus Antoine taken from the local newspapers. He made her study them. He made her repeat his obvious features. Eyes close together. Bushy eye brows. Head shaven. A birth mark high on his right cheek.

Wanda met with the police and gave her alibi. She was shown a set of photographs and without hesitation picked out Marcus Antoine, not once, but twice. And then she forgot about it, until the night Clarence Sterling, Belle Grande’s prosecutor called her to say her testimony would be necessary in the case of State v. Marcus Antoine.

"Yeah, yeah, she’s good to go. No problem." Max had the phone jammed between his left jaw and shoulder.

"I’m telling you she’s good to go."

Petrine was on the other end asking questions, but not listening to the answers. What am I, some kind of shrink, gotta repeat myself eighteen times, Max was thinking.

"Look, Petey P. She is good to go. Do ... you ... read ... me?

"What I want you to do is keep an eye on her kid."

Max drew deeply from his cigar, the smoke stinging his eyes.

"Mirabelle or something like that. Yeah, she’s over at St. Anne’s on Broadway. Just follow her around for a week or so. Take notes. Tell me what she was wearing. What color’s her book bag. That sort of thing. I want Wanda to think I’m the freaking eye in the sky. We gotta keep her on a leash, capiche?"

Max liked that. He’d have to use it again. He wrote a little note: The Capiche Leash.

"And, Petey. You don’t touch the kid, hear me?"

Petrine was talking, and Max took the phone from his ear and placed it over his crotch. Go down on this, whacko.

"I am telling you, Petey, this is not a test. Got me. No runs, no hits, no errors. You are looking, but that’s it. Got it?"

Petrine said enough to satisfy Max.

"I’ll send someone by with a little something to tide you over," Max made a note. "No problem, Petey. Now be a good boy."

Max was thinking that Petrine had become a high-maintenance problem. One it might be cheaper to solve.

Clarence Sterling was methodical. He was doing God’s work, of this he was certain. There was no doubt in his mind that Marcus Antoine was a murderer. A pampered murderer. Sterling would bring him to justice, just as he had brought so many others. But before this fight, as before all the others, Sterling needed to pray, to feel God’s hand on his shoulder. The joy of the Lord was his strength.

Sterling knelt.

"Lord Jesus, I ask that you bless and consecrate my efforts in this case. Make me worthy of the trust the people of Connecticut have placed in me. Let me speak the truth, and, I pray, let the jurors hear the truth." He knelt with his back to his gray, government issue desk. His face buried deep in his hands as he leaned into the grainy felt of his swivel chair. His knees were on his prayer rug, a gift from his wife, purchased on a trip they had taken to Jerusalem, to see the site of Jesus’s passion.

Sterling was silent now, for a time, waiting to discern God’s response. "I love you, Lord Jesus," he said, and there was no doubt of this love in his mind, nor was there doubt that Jesus was present to receive it. "Praise be to you, Lord Jesus, " he said, beginning to rock in a gentle rhythm. He knew no greater joy than prayer. Not his wife’s embrace; not even the birth of their children. Oh, these things were precious in their own right, but they were of this world, and were scented with sin and death.

The love of God knew no death and was timeless. It was perfect. Eternity bursting the bonds of time. As he prayed, he felt a quiet stirring just beneath his heart. He began to hum, aglow with the spirit of God. And then the words, strange words he’d never heard before began to trip from his lips. He was on his knees in his office, his arms held high in glory to God. He was speaking in tongues. Glossalalia. No known language, but his spirit alit and aglow and reaching to God. Speaking in the tongues of angels now, as soon he would speak in the tongues of man to a jury. Inside himself he felt calm, and then a voice. He was sure he heard a voice.

"You are my son, and in you I take great joy."

Sterling was crying. There is no joy more sublime, more perfect, than that which comes from the knowledge that God loves you, and has taken you for his own.

Sterling sang his praises to God in a quiet voice, from time to time almost shouting out "Praise you, Jesus."

When the spirit passed, he would head upstairs to the chambers of Jonathan Reardon. Trial was to begin in the Antoine case. Clarence Sterling was ready. Had not God himself said so?

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?"


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."

Dark Justice -- Chapter 25

Pulling Strings

"Judge Nash, it is Justice Fitzgerald on line four."

Benjamin Nash was intrigued. Why would a justice of the Supreme Court be calling him?

"Benjamin Nash," he said, sitting ramrod straight in his swivel chair, feet planted firmly on the floor.

"Ben, this is Harmon Fitzgerald, how are you?"

"I am well, thanks, Mr. Justice."

"Please, call me Harmon. Let’s not be so formal when no one is watching."

"What can I do for you, er, Harmon?" It wasn’t easy for Nash to be familiar with a member of the Supreme Court. Nash had the sense that this conversation was taking too long to come to the point, as though he were awaiting a violent summer storm. There was electricity in the air, and a deceptive stillness. When would the first thunder clap sound?

There was a silence on the line before Fitzgerald spoke again.

"Well, when do you expect to call the Antoine case to trial?" The pace of Fitzgerald’s speech suddenly accelerated. "I am not trying to influence the proceedings, mind you."

"Of course. Of course, I understand."

"But I cannot tell from the papers when the case is going to go. As you can imagine, my wife is pressing me to find out."

Now it was Nash’s turn for silence. Were there any ethical rules that prohibited this conversation? He could think of none. Then why the sense of unease?

"Well, um, Harmon. It could go at any point."

"Isn’t the probable cause hearing going to resume?" Fitzgerald asked.

"No. No. Mr. Antoine’s new lawyer waived the hearing. Guess he’s hoping a witness or two disappears before trial and he doesn’t want to get stuck with a transcript. You know the game."

"Who is his lawyer now?"

"Shamir. Mark Shamir from the public defender’s office."

Fitzgerald remembered him now. Late thirties but already a veteran of dozens of murder trials. From time to time he was also permitted to argue appeals arising from his cases, a rarity among public defenders where labor was typically divided between trial and appellate lawyers. He was smart. His decision to waive a probable cause hearing signaled a certain confidence. He sacrificed a chance to get a look at several of the state’s witnesses, but he also avoided the danger that should a witness disappear before trial that person’s testimony might merely be read to a jury.

"Well, Ben. I would appreciate anything you could do to bring this case to trial soon."

"I understand," Nash was noncommittal now, defending his turf.

Another pause.

"Any idea who will try the case, Ben?"

"I haven’t given it a thought yet. I’ll see who is available at the time of trial." Just a touch of defiance now.

"Hmmm. Well, I know Jon Reardon’s a fine man. New to the bench, but I’ve seen him in action as a lawyer. I think he could manage this sort of case well." Fitzgerald sat with eyes slammed shut, rubbing his temples with thumb and forefinger of his right hand. This did not feel right.

"Well, we’ll have to see who is available at the time of trial, Justice, er, Harmon."

"Indeed, Ben. By the way, we are about to vote on the budget for courthouse improvements. You still pressing for that new parking garage?"

Nash was stunned. Was this a quid pro quo? Reardon in exchange for a parking garage?

"Yes, sir."

"Well, Ben. We’ll have to see what is available won’t we?"

Nash was silent. Fitzgerald wondered whether the hook was set.

"I’ve got to go, Ben. Thanks for taking the time to chat."

"Anytime, Mr. Justice. Call me any time." Nash hung up. A frown etched across his forehead. He pulled a file from his drawer. It was labeled "Trial Ready Cases." He had forty-four cases ready to go. Antoine’s was thirty-fifth on the list. At the rate business moved, the case would normally not be reached for at least another year. But what would be the harm of bumping it up? A few heads would turn, but what of it? The case was high-profile. It would be good public relations for the court system to be perceived as something other than a slow-moving glacier.

Nash placed calls to Shamir and to Clarence Sterling, the prosecutor, leaving messages for both to return his call and report when they would be available to try the Antoine case.


The prosecutor glowed red, stamped her foot and stomped her way over to the witness. She ripped the document from the witness’s hand.

"May I have a brief recess, judge?" The statement was in the form of a question, but it sounded like an insult.

"The court will stand in recess for ten minutes," Reardon said. He arose immediately and walked out of the courtroom. He needed to get out of the room before he spoke the truth.

Dumb, dumb, dumb as dirt, he was thinking as he headed down the back hall to his chambers. The prosecutor behaved as though the rules of evidence were merely optional. She had apparently spent little or no time thinking about how to prove her case. When challenged, she acted as though it were defense counsel’s, or perhaps Reardon’s, fault that her case was not flowing smoothly. At the bottom of what barrel did the Office of the State’s Attorney find this one?

Reardon was presiding over something called a court trial. The defendant was accused of violating his probation and the state wanted him whisked back to jail. His offense? Failing to keep his probation officer informed of his correct address. It appeared as though the man had moved four times in three months. He was a sex offender. That meant he could not live near children. As a felon he was having a hard time finding a job. He was also prohibited from living at home with his wife. He didn’t have many options, and, from the testimony thus far he had spent a few days living in a car, a week or so on the floor of a friend’s business, and a couple of nights in a flop house. Just what did the state expect of him, Reardon wondered.

There was no jury in the room. That meant that the judge "found" the facts. The law’s language amused Reardon. "Oh, sweetheart, look!" he imagined saying to Millie. "I’ve found a fact." As though facts could be tripped over, fondled and passed from hand to hand. The grand and eloquent intellects at the bar and preaching from comfortable law-school perches loved to talk about legal theories, the bold and beautiful principles and presumptions that connected life’s random dots. They disdained mere matters of proof, as though any idiot could stub their toe upon facts; only legal geniuses, such as themselves, could arrange them in the proper way.

Reardon’s reveries were interrupted by a ringing phone.

"Jon, this is Benjamin Nash." It was never just plain Ben.

"Hello, Ben. What can I do for you?"

"I am calling the Antoine case to trial next week. I’d like to assign it to you."

Something like panic welled in Reardon.

"Are you up for it?"

In a flash, Reardon thought of a thousand reasons why he was not. He was new to the bench, for starters, and had presided over only a couple of jury trials in the eight or so months he’d been a judge. This case would attract attention nationally.

"Well, I’ve not got that much experience, Ben"

"Hmm. Well, I have considered that, Jon. But my sense is the issues are straightforward, and you have dealt with the lawyers involved. I think you’ll do fine."

Reardon said nothing.

"Are they any other reasons why you might want to pass on this one?"

Reardon’s eyes looked toward his desk drawer. The Shark’s envelope. A missing tongue signifying what, that nothing had happened? He was uneasy, but about what? What rule had he violated? What confidence had he betrayed? He’d kept his confidences. There was not even an appearance of improper conduct to consider.

"No, Ben. I was just thinking, I was," he paused. "I was thinking that I would be honored to be given this assignment."

"Good man. The lawyers will be in to see you Monday at 9:00 a.m. Clarence Sterling for the State; Mark Shamir for Mr. Antoine."

"Okay," Reardon said it almost as if it were a question.

"Good luck, Jon. Let me know if you need anything."

Reardon suddenly felt more lonely than he had felt in years.