Entries categorized "Dark Justice, Norm's Fiction"

Dark Justice -- Chapter 24

Joy Ride?

"Wanna know the best thing about being a Justice?"

Justice Arlen Spiker peered over the edge of his glasses at Fitzgerald.

"No speeding tickets." Spiker continued. "All you’ve got to do is show them your identification card, and, I am telling you, they back off tout suite." Spiker had laughed.

Fitzgerald still remembered the first time he and Spiker met. It was more than a decade ago at a reception for Fitzgerald shortly after his nomination to the Supreme Court had been approved by the Legislature. He and Spiker had become fast friends, often disappearing in the middle of the day to drive and talk. It somehow seemed safer and more private to talk in a moving car than in the hot house environment of the Supreme Court.

Spiker still loved to speed.

"So I get this call the other day from a detective in the Belle Grande Police Department. I can’t recall his name," Spiker dropped the gear of his new Porsche as they took a corner onto the entrance ramp of Route 2.

"Some witness placed me, or I should say my car, in an alley off Vine Street on the night Lester turned up missing. The witness thinks he might have seen a stabbing," Spiker said.

Fitzgerald said nothing.

"The cop wants to pay me a visit."

"Well, I suppose that is the right thing to do." Fitzgerald said. "Why haven’t you told me any of this before?"

Spiker gunned the engine, and the car shot forward.

"I wasn’t there, Fitz. Or if I was, I don’t recall seeing a damn thing."

More silence, as Spiker sped past a minivan in the right lane.

"Are you going to meet with the officer, then?"

"Don’t know. Gonna talk to my lawyer," Spiker downshifted again and swerved right to avoid a car lolling in the speed lane.

The men fell silent.

Spiker never ceased to surprise Fitzgerald. Although he was only 53 years old, he had already been on the Supreme Court for 18 years. The work had not enervated him. Far from being staid, he was the Court’s mischief maker. Eight years ago he’d actually placed a whoopee cushion on the seat of the Chief Justice before argument. An alert court security officer removed it moments before the chief was about to sit.

And there were rumors aplenty about Spiker. Nothing confirmed. He and his wife went almost annually to parties at the home of Max Greenberg in Branford. Fitzgerald was more than a little jealous of Spiker’s ability to hobnob with a man the tabloids called the "King of Porn." Fitzgerald knew that there was more to the talk than idle gossip. Spiker had taken Fitzgerald into his confidence, or so Fitzgerald thought. It was hard to say when Spiker was playing straight. Spiker was all animal, all the time, forever feeding on unseen currents. He could be as enthusiastic about a new book on Chief Justice John Marshall as he could be about the Chicago Cubs. Spiker had gone to the University of Chicago Law School. He was an effervescent spirit. Perhaps it was no surprise that his libidinal sense of the world led him to Max’s doorstep from time to time. There is, after all, only so much restraint possible in the psychic economy of most souls. Spiker probably needed extra juice from time to time. He occasionally titillated Fitzgerald with intimations of bawdy pleasures. And there was that time, a few years back, when Fitzgerald himself had sniffed the hem lines of a few strangers.

"Hey, look out," Fitzgerald placed his hands on the dash, as Spiker down-shifted to avoid colliding with a slow-moving minivan.

"Gotcha," Spiker said. All grins now. Another obstacle overcome.

The car was silent but for the engine’s contented roar. It is a crime not to give some cars the run of the road. All that power, performance and torque. And then along comes Everyman with a 65 mile per hour speed limit. Nietzsche was right. Laws were for the weak. A dark hand pulled Fitzgerald into a shadowy reverie.

Spiker a potential witness in the murder of Lester? This was over the line. And not just any murder. The murder of Fitzgerald’s stepson. Fitzgerald’s chest tightened.

"Eleanor is a mess," Fitzgerald said. "I am not sure how she will get through this trial."

It was Spiker’s turn now to be silent.

"She’s gone to pieces since that football player was arrested. She obsesses constantly about the guy they haven’t charged."

Spiker gunned the engine again, throwing each man’s head back into their headrests.

"I am not sure how much will come out at trial, but I am afraid this will be the end of us."

Spiker eased off of the accelerator once the speedometer passed 100 miles per hour.

"Let’s head back, Fitz. Don’t worry about a thing. I am sure it will all turn out well."

There were things Spiker did not want to discuss. Things that the bonds of friendship, a witness’s oath, or a judge’s duty were not going to dislodge. Rules, like speed limits, were for lesser men.

----

The two years since Jamie Winters had taken down a license plate number and date on the back of a matchbook produced no great changes in his life. He was still a frail and spindly waif of a man-child. And he still made his living peddling flesh. But he was moving up in the world. He now had a place of his own, and he had a few kids working for him. It was all low-key and more or less private. He kept an old loft where he’d let young runaways crash at night. He had taught the more adventuresome spirits among them how to hustle their wares. Always for a fee, however. Jamie was not a philanthropist; he knew the price of most things people were afraid to sell.

It was natural, therefore, that when he got busted for pimping, the cop called it promoting prostitution, Jamie’s thoughts would turn to how he might buy his way out of trouble. Although he’d lived at the margins for all of his young life, this first arrest came when he was twenty-five.

"Look, officer, I know my rights. I watch television, OK? I know you’ve got to tell me about my Miracle rights, but I already know them. OK?"

The officer read the rights anyway. And he had Jamie initial a form, a hasty "JW" scratched next to several sentences. Such was the character of proof the lawyers would need to prove that anything Jamie said, if he said anything at all, was voluntary.

"Look, you don’t want me," Jamie told the cop. "I’m like the freaking mold in a shower stall."

The officer looked at Jamie. They were peers, but Jamie seemed far more weathered, even hollowed out. Jamie was rattling on. The officer was silent. If they squawk, don’t talk. One of his sergeant’s aphorisms flashed through his mind.

"I’ll bet you’d get a cushy beat over at Dunkin’ Donuts if you cracked the Lester Fuchs case. How ‘bout I give you a little something and we call this a draw?"

Lester Fuchs?

Then it dawned on the officer. The son of some big shot, a judge or something. The case was a couple years old. No body. Missing kid. Rumors the kid got hit by a local bad guy. There were still a couple detectives nominally assigned to the case. But it was going nowhere fast.

"You talk too much, Jamie," the officer said. "What I want to know first is who are you working for?"

The department was pressing hard to nail vice merchants. In six months, Belle Grande was hosting the Special Olympics. Time to clean things up, if only for a time.

"I saw some guys in an alley," Jamie dangled the bait.

"They were holding a kid."

The officer closed his notebook, and turned to start the ignition of the cruiser. Jamie sat in the back seat, hands cuffed behind his back.

"And they stabbed him. He bled like stuck pig." Jamie had seen no such thing, but it sounded good to him. He held the thought.

"I heard him squeal."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Save it, wise ass." The officer’s eyes now on the road.

"Fine. Don’t believe me," Jamie said. "Keep playing hard ass and I’ll never give you the plate number of the car I was in the night the kid bit a blade. Expensive ride, too. Probably cost more than you make in two or three years."

The cop drove in silence.

"Fuckin’ poppin’ fresh dough boy crime stopper. You’re so freaking dumb it hurts."

Jamie was looking for a fight, and he didn’t know why. He wasn’t really afraid of jail. Prison rape? C’mon. He’d been paid for worse. And besides, who ever went to jail for being a pimp?

Jamie was pissed because for almost two years he’d imagined a night just like this. He figured he would be the star of the show. And all he got was some lump of a cop with no imagination. Jamie saved his breath. He knew he’d find a more receptive ear at the station.


Dark Justice -- Chapter 23

One for the Road

Sometimes he would dream about the hand. He would see it crawling, fingernails caked with dirt, and the wrist dragging along like a snail, leaving a trail of gore. The hand would stop, and a forefinger would beckon. "Follow me," he would hear. "Follow me, Petey P." He always awoke with a start when he heard that voice.

"I ain’t goin’ no place," Petrine said as he awoke this Sunday morning. He recalled nothing of the dream. His eyes struggled against the day’s glow.

A bright sun drove the gloom away, and for a moment Petrine felt only warmth and enjoyed being bathed in the vivid colors of the day. Outside his window, a green leaf caught his attention. Lucid, peaceful, even serene. If he looked at it just so, he could feel himself becoming a part of the leaf. He became the life moving through each tiny vein, and for a time he was one. There was no ache; there was no gap in his fabric needing filling with whatever was at hand. In these brief moments, he would smell her. Something like the scent of a baker’s yeast; he could almost see her breast and feel the nipple, large like a melon in his lips. From nowhere this sense of being at his mother’s breast became more real that the room around him. He lolled in the a luxuriant sense that she was back and he was all sated desire.

He reached to his left, and the bed was empty. She had not been there for weeks, and still he reached for her each morning. There was no anger about her absence today. Today there was only something approaching sorrow. He could not name the feeling. He was now having trouble even seeing her face, but certain sensations remained. He was alive with the feel of the small of her back, and he confused that feel with the scent of his mother’s breast.

His hand moved down to his groin, and soon he’d driven away the morning’s blissful sense with his usual urgency.

He dozed for a moment, and startled himself into wakefulness by saying aloud: "I’ve got to find that fucking hand."

Feet to the floor now, Petrine was all business.

The Shark had been worse than useless. Petrine had the guy figured for a coward. Mr. Smart-Mouth litigator could talk the talk in a courtroom when marshals had his back. But stick him in the back seat of a car with a gun and a blade? The guy actually cried. "Don’t cut me, Mr. Petrine. Please don’t cut me." Messed his pants like some freaking retard.

"Can it, counselor," Petrine leered. He pulled the blade from Shank’s face. They were driving south on the Hudson River Parkway. The car reeked of Shank’s bowels. No sooner had Shank heard the click of Petrine’s gun than the flood gates opened.

"Yo, Merv. Open a window, will ya? Smells like a freaking outhouse back here."

"So, Sharkman, what’d you spend for that suit. Eight, nine hundred bucks?"

Petrine had his knife out now, and was nicking the buttons on the jacket with quick flicks of the wrist.

"I, I don’t know."

"I, I don’t know," Petrine mocked him. A high-pitched whine, edging closer to The Shark.

"Well answer me this, big mouth. How many nuts you packin’?" The blade’s tip now in The Shark’s lap.

T’, t’, two," The Shark stammered.

"Wanna keep it that way?" Petrine jammed the blade’s tip up and under The Shark’s scrotal sac. He poked toward his groin.

"Don’t move," said a lump of man sitting across from Petrine in the limousine’s back seat. The man shoved the barrel of a small handgun up under The Shark’s chin.

The Shark was still.

"What I need to know is what you know, see?" Petrine said.

"For example, what about Marvelous Marcus A. He’s your boy, and I want to know what he’s got to say."

The Shark was not quick enough to respond. Petrine jerked the knife’s blade upward. The Shark could swear he’d severed a testicle. He leaned forward now and vomited.

"You know, Sharko, you’re like a freaking environmental catastrophe. Shit, puke. Even a little blood. I got all fucking night, but you’re runnin’ out of ways to make a mess. We gonna talk business here, or do I take you out to meet Jimmie Hoffa?"

The Shark was wiping his mouth with a handkerchief. There was blood on his crotch.

"I," The Shark was breathless with pain and panic," I, I, ... what do you want?"

"This is business, Sharko. We both read the papers, right?"

The Shark nodded.

"So we both know that inquiring minds think I whacked the Fuchs kid, right?"

The Shark paused.

"Right?" said Petrine, flashing the knife again.

The Shark nodded.

"So what does wonder boy say? Am I a killer, Sharko?"

For once, The Shark could find no words.

"Don’t play me, counselor. This might be the last ride you ever take. Am I a killer?"

"My client is not prepared to testify," The Shark said.

Petrine’s left hand gripped The Shark’s throat, and he dug finders into the arteries on each side. The Shark was quickly becoming faint.

"This ain’t no freakin’ courtroom, and I ain’t Judge Judy."

Petrine released The Shark, who gasped for breath.

"Am I a freaking killer?"

"Yes," The Shark said.

"Says who?"

The Shark was about to vomit again.

"Says who, Sharko. Let’s get real here."

"My, my client," The Shark was shaking.

"Yo, Mikey, pull over when we get near the bridge. I think we’re getting some more tossed cookies here."

Soon the limousine pulled to the side of the road. Traffic zoomed by.

"So what does Mr. Marvelous have to say?"

Shank gulped.

"You killed Lester Fuchs."

"Is that so? What else."

"He didn’t know it was going to happen. He says he was just along for the ride. You told him you needed to talk to this kid about something. You met Fuchs at the bar, and took him to an alley and knifed him." The Shark found it suddenly easy to break the attorney-client privilege.

"What else he tell you?"

"There was another guy there with you. You took the body and tried to burn it up."

"He said all that?" Petrine smirking now. "What an imagination that kid’s got."

"He also told me you hid the body somewhere. You did not have all of the body, though. You were missing a hand," The Shark suddenly coy. Always the lawyer, even besmirched in his own grime.

"Where’s the hand, Sharko?" Petrine all business again.

Shark silent.

"Open him up," Petrine said to his colleague.

A big beefy had now grabbing The Shark’s jaws, and a pair of needle nose pliers suddenly pulling The Shark’s tongue.

Petrine traced a line down The Shark’s tongue with the blade of his knife. Suddenly The Shark’s mouth filled with blood.

"One more chance before I take a souvenir. Where’s the hand?"

"He, he, wouldn’t tell me," The Shark leaned forward and spat out a mouth-full of blood. "He wrote it down in an envelope and made me sheal it." The gathering blood in his mouth slurred some consonants. "This wassh a couple yearsh ago when he was firsht a shushpect."

"Let’s go get the envelope."

"I, I gave it away."

"You what?"

"I gave it to my lawyer, and told him to hold it unlessh shomething happened to me."

"Who’s got it, Sharko?"

"Reardon, Jonathan Reardon. In Belle Grande."

"Get it," Petrine snapped.

"It, it ish not sho eashy. He’sh a judge now. He’sh, he’sh in the criminal court. In Belle Grande."

Petrine eyed The Shark. Was this the truth? It sounded like it. How do you get to a judge, he wondered.

The Shark spat out more blood, and sat whimpering.

"OK, Sharko. Let’s say you’re for real. You’re off the case. Let’s just say you’re my lawyer now." Petrine nodded to his colleague.

"Think about this, Sharko. Today you are alive because I believe you. I hope it stays that way. Go get yourself cleaned up, and I want you to remember that we never had this little talk."

The Shark nodded.

"We’re gonna take a little souvenir to keep you honest, Sharko. Call it a retainer."

The Shark nodded again. When he tried to scream, the blood gathering in his throat transformed into in the gurgling or a downing man. Petrine carved out a sliver of The Shark’s tongue, and then stuffed a rag into his mouth. The Shark passed out. When he awoke, he was dumped at the side of the road and left wandering.


Dark Justice -- Chapter 22

The Wages of Sin ...

Associate Justice Harmon Fitzgerald wondered why lawyers worried so about oral argument. By the time a case reached the Supreme Court it had been massaged half to death. There were briefs and arguments in the trial court. Perhaps an intermediate stop in the Appellate Court. And then more briefs for the Supreme Court. Oral argument, in Harmon’s view, was the equivalent of a predigested meal. There might be some nutritional value in it, but there was no point in pretending that it had much taste. Oral argument, truth be told, was most often boring. Today looked to be no exception.

Fitzgerald looked at the clock on the wall of his chambers. Ten minutes to go until court opened. He rose from behind his desk and headed toward the door. He had just enough time to head to the robing room and to don his black robe.

"Mr. Justice, it is your wife on line one," his secretary buzzed through on the intercom.

Fitzgerald paused for just a moment. Eleanor knew that arguments began at ten. Was this an emergency, or had she again lost her way as she stumbled through the weight of grief that had become their daily burden?

Hand on the door, he debated whether to answer.

"Mr. Justice?"

Fitzgerald took one step toward the phone and something like rebellion welled within him. Today he did not feel like shouldering her grief.

"I am heading down to argument, Beth. Tell her I’ll call afterward."

Another small betrayal; another brick in the wall growing between them. As he walked, Fitzgerald toyed with the idea of living alone. He was half way there, wasn’t he? Eleanor had gone to pieces after Lester’s disappearance. She kept her son’s room as though it were some kind of religious shrine. And now the house reeked of stale cigarettes, as did Eleanor. Fitzgerald could almost smell death on her when she walked into a room. And when that football player was charged with the murder, things only got worse. She raved for hours about the injustice of it all. Try as he might to console her, she was becoming, or had she already become, a caricature. He feared that the rest of their lives, the rest of his life, would be a howling shriek of rage.

His footfall was heavy, and he lumbered down the hallway as he headed toward the robing room.

"Good morning, Mr. Justice."

It was Gilda Fruida, the newest member of the court. Forty-six and filled with the wonder of it all. She had been appointed two years ago by Governor Picard. She was against the death penalty, in favor of abortion rights, hostile to insurance companies, and to the left of Ralph Nader on the most issues. Fitzgerald and several of the others called her "Fruit Loops."

"Morning, Athena. And how is the view from Mount Olympus today?"

Fruida had taught classics and law at the University of Wisconsin before returning to Connecticut.

Both arrived in the robing room at the same time.

Fitzgerald didn’t much like having women on the court. For one thing, it made trips to the robing room feel illicit.

The robing room was really a throwback to the 1950s, and was much like the locker rooms of Fitzgerald’s youth. Each justice had a squat locker painted a dull institutional beige. On the outside of each locker, a mirror, and a name plate above the mirror. No one ever really got naked in there. Hooks on the wall would work as well. But each justice had a locker, and each had a name plate and a mirror. They would gather randomly in the room just before argument to transform themselves from ordinary mortals to oracles. But did donning the uniform of justice really require coed facilities? Before Fruida arrived, Fitzgerald and the others would sometimes ham it up, pretending they were about to take the field in a tough game. Now everything was so, well, formal and proper. Fitzgerald fought the urge every so often to pull Fruit Loops’ bra strap back and let it snap back into place. Hell, that would loosen her up, some. Or would it?

On the docket today were three cases. Fitzgerald knew already how he’d vote on each. Attending argument was a mere formality. He might ask a question or two if the spirit moved him. He generally left the questioning to his more aggressive colleagues. The only case that had piqued his interest involved a claim of prosecutorial misconduct. Once again, a prosecutor had draped himself in sordid emotionalism, telling jurors that the victim in a murder case had cried out from the grave to identify the killer and was demanding justice. Fitzgerald found the argument lurid and offensive, but it was just argument, and it was an isolated part of the trial. What’s more, the defendant was as guilty as Eden’s snake. No way he deserved a new trial.

Passing from the robing robe into the Supreme Court chamber itself never ceased to awe Fitzgerald. He felt as though he were walking onto a stage where history was written in bold strokes. He could almost feel the hand of God at work. The architects meant it to be that way. A small forest had produced all the oak in the room. Portraits of the state’s chief justices loomed large on the walls. A plush, regal blue carpet covered the floor, expect for that portion bearing the state’s seal and motto. Qui transtulit sustinet: "He who transplanted still sustains."

But what dominated the room were two murals. One behind the bench at which the justices sat depicted the signing of the what some regarded as the first written constitution. Thomas Hooker, Roger Ludlow and John Haynes gathered together with a handful of Puritans more than 350 years ago to sign the Fundamental Orders, a brief document setting the metes and bounds between the members of the tiny colony.

The other mural portrayed an allegory of education. A child is being taught from the Book of Knowledge. Guardians representing progress and wisdom hover nearby. The light of education pushes superstition and ignorance into the dark. Both murals were the product of a single mind, a painter named Albert Herter who produced them on commission for the state in the early twentieth century.

The murals irked Fitzgerald. They symbolized a schizoid culture that could not decide whether to embrace the enlightenment and its ideals, or to cling to the fundamental truths of revealed religion.

It struck him sometimes that the construction of the courtroom reflected deeper and more chilling truths. As litigants and observers looked toward the justices seated at the oaken bench, their eyes were drawn to a vision of Puritan America and the confident comfort born of the sense that all the important truths had been revealed and need only be discerned by men and women of vision.

The justices, however, knew better. As they sat in their chairs and glanced upward, they saw an allegory of enlightenment. The light of reason a faint beacon in the surrounding darkness. Herter apparently had a deep sense of modernity’s dissonance. The spectators looked toward the justices for confident proclamations of eternal truths. The justices themselves often struggled against the darkness.

As the justices took their seats, Justice Arlen Spiker handed Fitzgerald a note. He looked nervous.

Fitzgerald read the note as the chief justice opened court.

"The Belle Grande police want to question me about the murder of your stepson. Some new witness says he thinks he saw a murder about the time LF disappeared. Says my car was in the area. We need to talk."

Fitzgerald was numb. Just how small a pond was the state? Drop one stone and the ripples cascade into eternity. First Eleanor swallowed by the shadows; now a pall reaching out to claim Spiker. All this on the top of the darkness consuming Fitzgerald. Cold dread and a simple desire to die swallowed Fitzgerald.

His chest was suddenly tight, and his shoulder ached. A heart attack? Would that he were lucky enough to be struck down quickly.

Fitzgerald glanced up toward the ceiling. He was looking at the allegory of education. A child sat, rapt and drawn to the book of knowledge. Superstition fading to black; the light of reason dawning. Such optimism.

All Fitzgerald could think of were words from another book. He could hear them now. Indeed, he could feel them being etched onto his heart by an icy finger. "The wages of sin are death," rang though his mind. "Death." He gave no thought to the rest of this verse. He felt that he was beyond grace.


Dark Justice -- Chapter 21

Making Nothing of Something

Something had happened to Merlin Shank. That much was clear. But was it a legally significant something?

Jonathan Reardon was in his living room, seated in his favorite leather chair. The fireplace glowed, and from time to time the fire snapped, disturbing his reverie. Millie was off shopping, and the house was quiet, almost sepulchral save for the life breathed into it by the fire. Reardon cradled a tumbler of Scotch and craved a pipe. Millie had made him quit smoking four or so years ago. He missed it still. It leant order to the moments in which his mind lacked an anchor.

When is something really nothing at all? And could nothing lead to something?

He was working himself into a philosophic funk, and when that happened, he’d long since learned that the best thing to do was to leave his thoughts alone. Sometimes looking directly at a thing obscured what it was. Ideas had uses, and the use of a thing was best described in its context. Reardon tried to stay out of the way of the contents of his mind. Best to leave it be; it always founds its way.

On a table beside him sat the envelope Shank had given him years ago. The scrawl of Shank’s signature still intact across the seal. The contents, Shank told him, would solve the murder of Lester Fuchs.

He had been instructed to open the envelope only if something happened to Shank. Now, during a probable cause hearing to determine whether Marcus Antoine had killed Lester Fuchs, Shank had been kidnaped, and his tongue, or parts of it, severed.

That was something. That was a legally significant something.

But Mrs. Shank had called reporting that it was nothing at all.

Or was it that it was not something?

Reardon’s head was hurting. He had that sickly feeling he could get when reviewing arguments for the existence of God.

Here we have this wonderfully intricate universe replete with conditions both necessary and sufficient for life. The odds of it occurring by chance infinitesimal. Therefore, the universe must be the product of divine design. But what are the odds of that? The remotely possible, even if bordering on the inconceivable, were, at least, something that made sense. Creation of something from nothing, creation ex nihilo, on the other hand, well, that’s nothing but a leap of faith. So what will it be? The inconceivable or blind faith? Something or nothing?

His thoughts drifted. He was a teen again, and the pastor of his church was sitting before him.

"If Jesus truly were the Son of God did he not share God’s attributes?" Reardon’s eyes bored a hole into the man of the cloth.

"Yes; God is love, and Jesus loves you, Jon."

"And if Jesus were fully God and fully man would that not mean that he shared such qualities of God as foreknowledge?"

The preacher was silent. He could sense a conceit of reason gathering shape, and he cared not to be ensnared in a Satanic trap.

"If all this is true, why is the crucifixion such a big sacrifice? I mean, even if Jesus were killed and suffered, he knew he’d be back in three days. People go to jail for longer than that every day," Reardon ached.

"Let’s pray, Jon." It was the preacher’s response to the imponderable.

Christ, he wanted Millie home now. Her touch could rescue him from thoughts that multiplied and left him feeling alone and scared. He drained the tumbler of Scotch, and his thoughts continued to multiply and divide. He needed the touch of something real and indisputable to stop reason’s flight.

The Shark’s mutilation was real enough, but what did it mean? Marcus Antoine was going to need a new lawyer. The newspapers reported Antoine was believed to have acted with a shadowy character named Peter Petrine. Hell, at lunch the other day Reardon and several other judges had talked the case half to death. Mike Hurley, the portly judge and former prosecutor presiding over the probable cause hearing had chortled about the warrant for Antoine’s arrest.

"They’ve got Antoine, all right. The kid is toast," Hurley said as he chewed a tuna sandwich. "They should charge this Petrine character, too. But they haven’t. I’ll bet heads are spinning in Sterling’s office." Hurley giggled, his chin jiggled, and mayonnaise clung to the corners of his mouth.

"Of course," Hurley belched, "Sterling could screw the case up. He’s got the charisma of a clam."

Everyone but Reardon giggled. Clarence Sterling was the frequent butt of the judges’ private humor. He was rated incompetent by most; workmanlike at best. Yet when Sterling appeared before any of these judges in open court he spoke for the State, and was treated as though he was probity personified.

"Shank’ll will chew him a new ass," said Judge Grimes.

Each of the judges, including Reardon, chuckled.

"I’ll keep The Shark out of the deep end," Hurley said, reaching for some of the french fries on Grimes’ plate. "Let him bite Sterling in the ass once or twice for sport, but that’s it. I’m sick of seeing that bastard’s face on television."

These judicial lunches depressed Reardon. He felt like a retired athlete, or, worse, an assistant to the head coach, sitting and handicapping the play of those still fit enough to compete. There was a silent, conspiratorial tone to these gatherings. Here the judges could vent their spleens, show some feeling and gossip. Once on the bench, they feigned detached ignorance of anything not placed on the record in court before them. Reardon wondered how long it took to become comfortable with deceit.

The Shark’s instructions had been clear, and so, it seemed were the requirements of the Rules of Professional Conduct, a slim volume of ethical rules designed to keep lawyers and judges from tumbling into ethical traps. Reardon had a copy of them on his lap as he stared into the fire.

Rule 1.6 made clear that he was to keep his client’s secrets unless disclosure was necessary to keep the client from committing a criminal act that could result in death or injury to another. This one was simple. The Shark was his client. As near as Reardon could tell, there was no reason to believe that The Shark was anything other than a victim of criminal acts.

Should he talk to The Shark himself?

Christ, how? The Shark was still in the intensive care unit, and reporters were camped out in front of the hospital. The Antoine case was hot, and it was being reported as fact that The Shark’s assault was related to the Antoine case. There was no way Reardon could get into the hospital without being seen.

And Reardon himself now felt compromised. He had been shown a list of pending criminal cases weeks earlier by Judge Nash. Reardon told the judge he had no potential conflicts in any of the cases. If he were to go back now and say he had a potential conflict in the Antoine case that could raise suspicions about his judgment. It might raise questions about why he had not disclosed the conflict earlier, and why he was doing so now, in the wake of the assault on The Shark.

But nothing irrevocable had happened. He did not need to disclose the source of the conflict, only that there was a potential conflict. The biggest sins, the divides that swallow worlds, almost always begin with little missteps. He’d known it with Marcy. He complimented her on the color of a sweater, and soon the world was redone in her pastels; the first time he wore the cologne he gave her and received a compliment from her, feeling at once ashamed and proud.

His heart was racing now, and panic welled. He had wanted Marcy while loving Millie with all of his heart. He was now a judge, and he wanted to do justice, even though he would be the first to admit that he could not discern what was just, much less define it.

It had grown dark as he sat staring at the fire. He turned on a light and rose to get another tumbler of Scotch. He was weary, and his chest heaved. The room spun more from his thoughts than from the Scotch.

To a casual observer, Reardon looked calm and in control. Only Millie would know that he was at sea and floundering.

The view from the street certainly did not reflect turmoil.

Petrine sat behind the wheel of one of Max’s cars in front of Reardon’s home. He saw the judge get up and head deeper into the sprawling house. Reaching for his glove compartment, Reardon removed an envelope. Petrine had gloves on, and the envelope had been wiped clean. No fingerprints that way.

Perhaps it was time to deliver some Shark meat to Judge Jonathan Reardon. Petrine wasn’t sure how much the judge knew. But one thing was clear: Petrine needed to keep this robe on a leash. There was no way he was going down for the murder of Lester Fuchs.


Chater 20 -- Dark Justice

What's A Victim To Do?

Tiny fingers fumbling at her breast were one of her most vivid memories of Lester’s infancy. Each time he nicked her, she felt a special pride. Eleanor enjoyed breast feeding, and the first time she trimmed his finger nails were a source of sorrow. He was perfect, and it seemed a crime to tamper with him. Now all that remained was a howling sorrow. She wanted to see him again, if only to bury him.

Nicotine stained fingers were twitching in the lap of her woolen skirt, and nervous energy made her right foot tap a rapid beat. She was sitting in the lobby of the Belle Grande State’s Attorney’s Office waiting to meet with the victim’s advocate. It was her third visit to the office, and each time she entered the courthouse doors she felt hollow. Her anger was pressed so far down that she lost sight of it, and of all the other feelings that made her a person. She was a husk of grief.

"Mrs. Fuchs, come on in, please" Maria Griswold ushered Lester’s mother into a tiny office. The colors were muted, pastel photo frames contained pictures of young children and parents. Maria was in her late twenties, and was the empathic possessor of a social work degree from the local teachers’ college. She was working on a master’s thesis which she planned to entitle "Griefwork and Justice: Why Victims Must Be Heard In Criminal Proceedings."

"I would like an appointment with Mr. Sterling," Eleanor Fuchs finally said.

The victim’s advocate shifted nervously in her seat.

"Why? Is there something I can help you with?"

"I want to talk to him about Marcus Antoine and the other man who killed Les."

"Mrs. Fuchs, you know the has State has not charged anyone else."

"I know that, but every time I read the papers I hear people talking about that other man," Eleanor could not repeat the name without her stomach twisting and turning in painful knots.

"Well, we have been through this...,"

"And now that lawyer has been almost killed," Eleanor interrupted, insistent now. Fumbling hands reached into her purse for a cigarette.

"We are investigating the injuries to Mr. Shank, Mrs. Fuchs," Marcia said. "I have to ask you not to smoke. There’s a law you know."

Eleanor ignored her and blew a long stream of smoke toward the ceiling.

"Please get me in to see Mr. Sterling. One of the secretaries told me he was in this morning."

The two sat silently for a moment. Maria fuming about the smouldering cigarette, and Eleanor intent on seeing the prosecutor. Eleanor drew from her cigarette again.

"Fine, I will see if Mr. Sterling is available," Maria said, as she picked up the phone.

"Thank you," said Eleanor, as she stubbed her cigarette out on the side of a waste basket.

-----

Prosecutors come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. In the case of State v. Marcus Antoine, destiny delivered a pear-shaped man in his early fifties with a voice that still had the capacity to hit the high-notes of adolescence.

"Good morning, Mrs. Fuchs. It is good to see you again," Sterling said as he entered the victim advocate’s office. Her visit was unannounced and unexpected. Therefore, he would not meet her in his office. There were rules, after all, and boundaries had to be respected. Were she not the wife of Harmon Fitzgerald, he would not have seen her at all. Not that he expected the Supreme Court Justice to do him any favors for having agreed to meet with Eleanor. Not at all.

"What can I do for you this morning?"

"I want to know what you are going to do about the other man who killed my son."

"Mrs. Fuchs, as you know, ..."

"I know what I read, and what I have been told."

"We have charged Marcus Antoine because we have physical evidence and an admission from him. We have ..."

"But that other man," she could not utter Petrine’s name, "was seen with, with," again the name would not come, "the man you have charged. You are going to let a killer go free." She was fumbling in her purse, hands shaking with rage looking for her cigarettes.

"That is not enough evidence to convict, Mrs. Fuchs. I might not be able even to get a warrant for his arrest with what we have."

"Then try harder," she placed a cigarette between her lips and fumbled with the lighter.

Sterling stifled the impulse to reach for her hand to stop her from breaking the rules. He ran a tight ship.

"And now that, that lawyer," all players on the defense were nameless phantoms, incarnations of the evil that had destroyed Lester and hidden his body from her, "I am sure he has been hurt to keep the case from coming to trial."

"We have no facts on that, Mrs. Fuchs."

Victims were tedious, all suffering from an understandable form of narcissism in which random events revolved around their pain. It was far easier to prosecute criminal cases before the activists got involved and started whelping about victims’ rights. Sterling tried to avoid victims as much as he could, he represented the people of the State of Connecticut; that meant, in his view, that he should be free to rely upon his conscience alone to determine just what was just and reasonable.

"You have all the facts you need to put both men away," the flame caught the tip of her cigarette.

"Mrs. Sterling, you are a musician, right?"

"Do not condescend to me, Mr. Sterling. I know enough law."

"I would not tell you how to play Chopin," Sterling continued.

"I know enough law to know that where there is a will there is a way," when she paused and drew again from her cigarette it sounded like a forest fire.

"For example, a violin does not try to sound like a ..."

"Clarence, may I see you in the hall?" The victim advocate had heard enough of two people talking past one another. She wanted them to communicate.

"That won’t be necessary, Maria," Sterling was curt now.

"Look, Mrs. Fuchs, Marcus Antoine has a right to remain silent. We have tried to talk to him, but he will not cooperate with us. If he won’t talk, we cannot develop a case against Peter Petrine with the evidence we have at this time. I know it is hard to accept; I find it hard to accept, but this is our law."

"Well, isn’t it true that you can offer him a deal? Once his case is over, he has to testify, doesn’t he?" She stubbed out the cigarette.

"It is too early to negotiate, Mrs. Fuchs. He’s only been in custody for a little more than a month."

"It has been two years," Eleanor said, pausing for effect between each word.

"Look, the last conversation I had with Mr. Shank about this was a week ago. His position then was that his client was innocent, and would accept nothing less than the State’s dropping the case. I am not going to drop this case, you have my word."

"I don’t want your word, Mr. Sterling. I want justice, and I, I want my son." She had faltered for a moment, and sorrow started to gather in her chest; she summoned a burst of anger to push it down. Once the anger was spent, she felt suddenly empty.

"It is going to take some time for this case to play itself out, Mrs. Fuchs. I do not know how long, and I do not know how I would endure this if my child were taken. I need your patience, and I promise you I will do all I can."

Silence. Eleanor trapped now. She had summoned the will to come to the court and to make what was for her a scene. A velvet glove was reaching up from deep within and snuffing out hope and all feeling other than a sense that she was sinking into a place without moorings or landmarks.

An awkward silence in which no one spoke.

"I have to go now. Maria will get you anything you need."

Sterling turned to go, and offered a soft hand to Eleanor. She sat staring with unseeing eyes. Sterling looked to Maria, who nodded softly.

"That man is a coward," Eleanor muttered finally, gesturing after Sterling. "My son’s killer will go free. I feel it in my bones." Eleanor was learning what it was like to be angry enough to kill.


Dark Justice -- Nineteen

Marcus Meets a Stranger

"Mr. Antoine, my name is Mark Shamir, and I have been appointed by the court to represent you." The two men were sitting in a closet-size room in the basement of the court house. A screen separated them.

Antoine stared back from behind the screen. Was this another set up? Who was this dude in a cheap suit? His mama got him The Shark, and now he had to settle for some cracker with crooked teeth.

"The court has granted a brief continuance in your case so that I can get up to speed. I wanted to come down to say hello, and see if you need anything."

Antoine needed something all right. How about a get out of jail card? How about someone to listen to him? How about the truth? All this jive about him killing the Fuchs kid. Antoine was no killer. He knew it. He had plans. He had a future. He was supposed to be tearing up the turf in Ann Arbor. Word. This was cold, cold jive, and he was getting burned.

"Have you had a chance to review the State’s file on you?"

Shamir was a pro. He’d been a public defender for two decades, and he would be on anyone’s top ten list of criminal defense lawyers in the state. He’d long since learned to ignore the scorn of those who viewed public defenders as something other than real lawyers. It didn’t get any more real that what he saw day in and day out. Lives on the precipice, one push from disaster. And clients who viewed their lawyer as part of the problem.

"The State’s charging you with murder, kidnaping and conspiracy to commit those crimes. It’s too early to talk about cutting a deal, but the State is willing to offer a lesser charge if you will flip on Petrine. As you know, he’s not been charged."

"Yo, whatchu talking ‘bout flip? I ain’t no killer." Antoine was not even looking at Shamir as he talked. In fact, he wasn’t looking anywhere at all. He was playing a role. Street tough. His armor against a white world.

"Look, Marcus, I don’t know what went down that night. I do know that you’ll die behind bars if we can’t work this out." Shamir tried to see his client’s eyes through the screen. How can you communicate with a man if you cannot see his eyes? Speech is merely noise when detached from the speaker.

Antoine was silent. Anger seethed from him. He was innocent, and he knew it. He also knew that just about no one would believe him. His coach at University of Michigan certainly didn’t.

Want to see God? Hit the Big House in Ann Arbor some Saturday afternoon when the University of Michigan’s Wolverines take the field. Put on the maize and blue. Two hundred thousand lungs screaming and all eyes on you. Break a tackle and the roar picks you up, flips you over and messes with your head so bad you don’t know where you are. You don’t need to know. You are with God, and you are jiving through time. In a good year, you might even play in the Rose Bowl. All eyes on you on New Year’s Day, coast to coast.

Antoine got a four-year ride to the University of Michigan. A full athletic scholarship. And he played some during his freshman year. He once broke a tackle and flew thirty-seven yards for a touchdown in a home game against the University of Washington. The Detroit News even referred to him as Marvelous Marcus Antoine the next day. He was a mile high and soaring.

And then he crashed.

"Marcus, there are some men here to see you from the Michigan State Police. They have a warrant for your arrest." Coach Fleer was talking, and his face was all business. None of that we want you son and we’re so happy you’ve chosen Michigan stuff he oozed after Antoine signed his commitment letter.

"Say, what?" Antoine was stunned.

"You are charged with murder in Connecticut, son. The troopers have a governor’s warrant. I guess you’ll be extradited."

Antoine’s swagger was gone. He sucked air and looked for something to hold on to.

"Before you go, I need you to know we are behind you, Marcus. Your place on the team will be here for you if, er, when, you get this sorted out. But in the meantime, we are suspending you, Marcus. We’ll send your stuff to your mom back East." All business now. A door opened and the press geek walked in with something in his hand. They were going prime time with this news. Dissing him before he even left town.

"Yo, coach, I ain’t ..."

"Marcus, this is going to be a tough ride. Go slow." The coach got up from his seat now, and nodded toward the door. The public relations guy opened it. Marcus was dismissed.

"I ain’t killed nobody, coach. This, this ain’t right."

Coach Fleer was walking toward another door. He paused as two uniforms entered the room.

"I didn’t slice that kid, coach. It was the pimp’s dude. Man, I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t." Marcus screaming now, as a mean-looking trooper slapped cuffs on his wrists. Another trooper began to read him his rights. Just like on TV. Just like that. Cold. All business now.

Fleer heard every word, and vowed to do a better job of learning everything there was to know about his next recruit.

And now Antoine was sitting in jail. A two million dollar bond on his head. His lawyer’s tongue ripped out, and some new white dude sitting across him acting like he had some love to give. Antoine knew about rage all right. And he now knew anger hot enough to make him kill.

"According to the warrant, the State’s case revolves around three things: They found a shirt at your mom’s with blood stains on it consistent with the blood of the victim. You were seen with the victim the last night he was alive. And you told a woman named," Shamir flipped through some paper, "named Wanda Rice that you killed a kid in a dispute over a girl outside Hammersly’s Bar and Grill in Belle Grande."

"I don’t know no Wanda. I told my lawyer all this." Antoine angry now.

Shamir was smart enough to sidestep the anger.

"You were also seen with a guy named Peter Petrine at the bar that night."

Antoine was silent.

"The cops think Petrine is a bad guy. There is also some thinking that you got caught up in something too big for you to handle. That’s why I can cut a deal for you if you’ve got something to say about Petrine."

"I ain’t no fucking killer, man, and that is that. They want something? I walk. I ain’t gonna do time for something I did not fucking do." Antoine slammed an open palm on the stainless steel shelf. And he was standing, nostril’s flaring.

"Let’s see where this goes, Marcus. I just got the file, and there is a lot to read. You have got to maintain, and, trust me on this one, you have no friends inside. No one. I do not want you talking to anyone about this case. Do you follow me?"

Antoine’s back was turned. His shoulders tense. All this lawyer talk. He was innocent. He knew he was innocent. That low-rent white dude Petrine knew it, too. He was being set up, and he couldn’t outrun it. Every day he sat inside he lost another day of training. He was losing his edge.

"Your next court date is in two weeks," Shamir said. "I’ll try to come see you at the jail when I’ve had a chance to read through everything. One of the guards will give you my card. Call me if you want to talk." Shamir was rising to leave.

"I ain’t copping, man. I’m telling you. I was there, but I didn’t know what was going down. I seen the kid die. That’s real and that ain’t gonna change. And I know who killed him. But I walk, or I ain’t gonna talk. That is the bottom line."

"Fair enough, Marcus. Just understand this: You don’t have to be guilty to die behind bars. I’ll give you choices. You make them. But you’re the one who has to live with what you choose."


Dark Justice -- Chapter 18

Inertia and a Gavel

"Morning, Marshal," Reardon drove into the parking garage at the back of the courthouse. He’d been a judge long enough now that he no longer needed to flash his Judicial Department identification card. Everyone knew him.

"Good morning, Your Honor. And a beautiful day it is, too, sir." The marshal preferred florid greetings. Why use two words, when seven, ten or twenty were at hand? Reardon wondered what sort of loneliness led a man to throw words at people in hopes that something, anything would stick.

Reardon slid past the marshal and took one of the spots reserved only for judges.

The radio reported that the trial of Marcus Antoine would be delayed. Details were sparse about the mutilation of Shank. There was something thrilling and chilling about the news.

Reardon suddenly felt adrift and alone. He missed his clients’ energy, their desperation and chaotic need. The bench was too quiet; too removed from feeling and the clawing imperatives of those battling with forces they could not discern. He no longer parked with those whose lives hung in the balance. He used a separate entrance. Rarely was his name ever spoken. Part of him was becoming accustomed to this social anesthesia, and that worried him.

"Hey, there, Judge." Sandra Martin, appointed to the bench a few years before Reardon, was getting out of her car. One long leg after another climbing out of her Saab’s cocoon. Reardon had fantasized about her when he practiced law. She was a former prosecutor who dabbled for a time prosecuting white collar crime and then moved on to prosecute murders. He’d tried three cases against her. He had appeared before her once after she became a judge. She acted then as if they had never met.

"Hello, Sandy. How’s life?"

"Oh, nasty, brutish and short; Same old, same old," she brushed a wisp of graying blonde hair off her forehead. "So what do you hear about the Shark?"

"Just what’s on the news. Not much, if you think about it," Reardon said. "I guess he got maimed. Tongue sliced. Some pretty sick people out there."

"In a funny sort of way, it serves him right. He’d never shut up, you know." She was silent, testing Reardon to see what sort of sensibility his response would yield. She liked sniping quietly at high-profile lawyers. She viewed a fellow jurist’s willingness to do so as a sign of trustworthiness.

The two walked in silence to the elevator in the rear of the courthouse. Sandy was silent, and fuming. Her attempt to build a bridge was rebuffed. What was it with Reardon, anyhow? Every attempt at familiarity was rejected. Who’d he think he was, Oliver Wendell Holmes?

"It should be interesting to see who picks up the Antoine case, now," she said. "I hear the kid’s broke; word is The Shark took it ... pro bono." She had almost said "as a publicity stunt," but decided not to risk another rejection.

"Public defender’s office, don’t you think?" Reardon marveled at Sandy’s similarity to the marshal. So much wasted speech. Just what did she want from him?

They rode the elevator in silence. Sandra Martin silently counting the ways in which Reardon had remained aloof, and Reardon wondering whether every former prosecutor who donned a robe found pleasure in the torment of others.

Reardon had been tempted, for about a week early in his legal career, to become a prosecutor. His practice was not yet off the ground. A classmate called to report an opening in the state capitol. The pay was not spectacular, but it was regular. And if you simply put one foot in front of the other and stuck at it for a decade or so, you could clear a six figure salary. Better yet, there were no clients with whom to contend. Millie had supported the idea.

"John, a regular income would be nice," she said. Their daughter was three at the time. "And it would be nice to have you home more."

"It’s tempting, Millie, it really is. Can you see me, standing in the well of the Court? Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of the people of the State of Connecticut, I am asking you to find Joe Blow guilty as charged." He was preening in the kitchen of their townhouse, chest puffed out and gesturing calmly with his left hand, practicing the display of his wedding band so that all could see he was the sort of man in whom they, too, could place their trust.

"But here’s the thing, Millie. Just what is the State of Connecticut? I mean, does it really exist? It all seems sort of dishonest to me, parading around and pretending to speak on behalf of the people when you haven’t even been elected to anything." These were the days before victims had organized into a lobby and come streaming into court demanding vengeance.

"I think I would miss making a difference in people’s lives." Case closed; the people would have to do without Jonathan Reardon.

But that was nearly two decades ago. Now he was on the bench, and although he had not served there long, he’d noticed a subtle transformation. He was losing track of something. He paid homage almost daily to things that did not exist.

"The court finds that the plaintiff has failed to meet her burden in this instance."

Or, "the state’s burden of proof, having been met, requires the court to find."

Jonathan Reardon, a man who refused to serve a fiction as a young lawyer, now spoke as one. Truth be known there was no metaphysical court standing somehow outside space and time and revealing mundane truths to struggling judges. No court found anything; Reardon did. Yet he was permitted to hide behind the oh-so significant nouns dear to lawyers.

The charade was easier for judges like Sally Martin. She was a former prosecutor, and had long grown accustomed to dressing up her preferences and tastes in the law’s rhetoric. Reardon wondered what she was like as a young lover. "No, not there; the people" – or was it the state even then? – "want you to touch me there." She was no doubt now a more imperious lover. "The court wants it like that! So ordered!"

The elevator reached the fourth floor, and Reardon got out and turned left toward his chambers. Martin remained; her chambers were on the seventh floor. "Prick," she muttered as the door closed. It was safe to show a bit of passion now that she was alone.

The light went on automatically as he entered the neat little room. A wall of law reporters to his left, and to the right chairs for those who visited his chambers. On his desk, the draft of a memorandum prepared for him by a legal intern. As he lowered himself into his chair, the phone rang.

"Reardon," he said.

He listened for a moment, and doodled on a legal pad before him.

"Well, yes, I understand." He said.

A frown knit his brow, and he began to wag his pen between his finger and thumb in annoyance.

"I had not planned on doing so," he said.

"Yes, I understand," he said after another torrent of speech.

"Certainly, if that is what he wants."

The caller would not shut up.

"I understand, Mrs. Shank. I had not planned on doing otherwise."

Reardon hung up the phone and turned his chair to glance out of the window of his chambers. Across the town green, the spire of St. Anthony’s Episcopal Church imposed a vision of order and symmetry.

Nothing had happened, Mrs. Shank had told him. Her husband had written a note urging her to call him and to relay that nothing had changed. There was no reason for him to take action.

Mrs. Shank sounded puzzled. Nothing betrayed any awareness on her part that Reardon held a sealed note from her husband. The Shark had been maimed, and yet the message was clear: Nothing had happened and there was no need for Jonathan Reardon to open the envelope given him years earlier.

Reardon opened his desk, reached for a letter opener and sat looking at The Shark’s neat handwriting. Perhaps the time had come to open it. What would be the harm. No one would know.


Dark Justice -- Seventeen

A Talking Knife

If Jim Bowie lives in Heaven or in Hell, he no doubt takes pride in his work. His knives are everywhere. They have the explosive power of the act creation itself, drawing from nothing and bridging always and forever the too deep chasm between word and deed. If these knives could talk, what stories they would tell. The ripping of flesh and the rending of dreams. Cold steel wedded in passion to hot palm, and then lashing to hidden regions. Oh, these knives, if they could talk....

---—

The small of his back is where I am most comfortable. I sit sheathed in black leather. My handle above the snug line of his jeans, and the length of me reaching, reaching, reaching down to a subtle divide that cleaves him. I ride him intimately, and each move he makes acknowledges me.

We dance at night sometimes, with the lights low, and music, always music. Sometimes Sympathy for the Devil. Sometimes a Requiem. Sometimes the crazy jive of a rapster. I’m a Jagger dagger, Mozart’s death art, I am the king of the mother fucking hood, baby.

Wanna go on a roller coaster ride? In his right hand now, he holds me high in the air, arm straight up, he struts around the room. Pleased to meet you; guess you know my name. Swoosh into the valley of the shadow of death. Then up, up, up a gullet of shadows. Each thrust ends with a twist, and I hear my lover grunt. We practice this minuet over and over and over again. I am cold steel wet with anticipation.

Nine and one-half inches from tip to hilt, baby. Always hard, always honed to a point. Coming soon to a rib cage near you. I’m hard, always hard, and ready whenever my lover calls.

He is so sweet and gentle with me in the mornings. A lamb cloth and sweet oils over my length, until I shine. His eyes dance over me, and the sly smile of desire blossoms on his lips. A kiss and he drapes me in my leather. Each of his hands take me in turn, both knowing so well just the right spot to keep me between the promise of ecstacy and joy of restraint. He knows my edge, and hones me with subtle craft. I am the edge of his desire.

Will today be the day?

Oh, that you could hear what I hear. A rush of air blows past me, and then at once the quiet tear of outer flesh. It happens so fast there are no screams. And suddenly I taste it again, the tawny grit of skin. It lasts but a moment. A touch of sweat, perhaps a dash of some soap last used to clean, and then the oily taste of fat. All merely hor d’oeuvres, now; a quick splash on the palette.

Deeper, deeper, deeper. Faster now, harder and furious. A wall of muscle sliced with ease. What glory the rending of vanity’s abdomen. Friends, Romans, countrymen, give me your six packs. I am through it in a flash; each muscle snapping to attention as I sail through in search of sweetmeats.

Perhaps a rib standing guard, a sentinel alert to the distant hue and cry. I’ll nick him to the marrow, and shatter his complacent veneer. Defy me and learn of a fury far worse than a woman’s scorn.

Upward, inward, twisting now, and then the hiss and gurgle of lung meat. Tiny little sacks of bubbling despair. The effervescent taste now so light; the length of me shudders in delight. My tip seeking, seeking, seeking an artery to nick. Contrast is the key. First the taste of bubbles, then pure oil as hot blood snakes a path over the length and breadth of me. More, baby, more, is all I can think. There’s the rich, pungent taste of liver still to find, and a kidney’s contents always refresh. Let me plunge through and free the remains of the day seeking refuge in ponderous gut. I want it all, over and over and over again, baby. Don’t stop now.

And then a jolt. The hilt hits a wall, and all my passion slides from head to toe and is left behind me in a wake of release. Almost as fast as I entered, I am pulled from paradise, and then the room again is in view. I hear sounds now, a wail of sorts, and my lover’s hum of approval. Over, and over again we’ll repeat this crazy arc. I sail toward the heavens, and gore flies from my shaft. Blood, a bit of bone, a detached piece of one organ or another, all set in orbit finding a place to rest on wall, shirt, foot, face, anywhere and everywhere willing to stand by and pay tribute to me and my lover. We are one now. The silent work of killing knits together stray pieces of time and space. No time to think about what is to come, or what might be. All is the moment, and in these moments I am God summoning worlds of my desire, choosing for myself the right to name each piece of creation.

But these moments are rare, too rare. The world in which my lover lives shuns such ecstacy. Pitiable fools. Everywhere the scent of passion surrounds them: all of life begins, does it not, with a grunt and a shudder? Run, hide and send to the heavens your prayers to avoid that from which you sprang. A shuddering climax awaits. Can I be blamed for feeding on the obvious? Perhaps I am too impatient, and am, what, guilty?, of wanting to make haste. Ha! Blame? Guilt? This double speak always seeking to cloud my view. I’ve traveled with my lover’s kind too long. Let me calm him, now: Cold steel on flesh, and rhythmic twist. Come to me, darling, come to me and don’t be weary of all that divides and seeks to conquer. We are one, and the world is one, you and I, dancing in the flame of creation.

I love him, and he is mine. I know his hand, and the taut excitement of the kill. He is one with me, and I with the world. I love him, this man. I love him, but I will not use the name others gave him. He is me. Let the world know him as Peter Petrine or Petey P, but he is me, and I am him, my lover and I always a thrust away from sweet release.

"Hey, kid, I got a message for you," Petrine stood to the left of Lester Fuchs at the bar. It was Saturday night, and the music was loud. Just behind Petrine stood a muscular black dude, and some other pimply looking moron.

"Say what?" Fuchs said.

"Let’s go for a walk," Petrine said, and he grabbed Fuchs’ arm to lead him from the room.

"Fuck you," Fuchs said, yanking his arm from Petrine’s claw. The pimply looking guy stepped forward, and grabbed Fuchs’ other arm.

"Listen, puke-face, you’ve been fishing in the wrong hole. You and me, we have an ass-sig-nation to discuss. Got it? An ass-sig-nation." Petrine hissing in the kid’s ear as he grabbed the other arm. Fuchs eyes go wide; he doesn’t resist now. He is small of stature and slight. He weights only 120 pounds when soaking wet.

The look of him disgusted Petrine. Mr. Cool. Yeah, right down to the funky looking shirt with some jack ass riding a horse stitched on to the front. Punk. Fucking punk.

The quartet leaves the bar, and rounds a corner. Soon an alley beckons. Nice place for a talk.

"So here’s the deal. Stay the fuck out of the computer business. You’re dipping where you don’t belong, and, well, people are getting pissed. Dangerous people," Petrine inches from the kid’s face, spewing toxic nicotine breath.

"I didn’t ..." the kid starts.

"Listen, punk," a solid punch to the gut, and the kid doubles over.

"Lester, right? That’s your name, ain’t it? Lester the fucking computer molester," Petrine working himself into a lather. The black dude now looking around, scared, seeking a way out of this scene. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

"Fuck you," the kid whimpered, as he tried to straighten himself. It looked as though he reached for something near his belt.

And then the music started. Petrine heard it, and in one movement the dance began. Lover and beloved united again. The blade cold and shivering; Petrine’s touch familiar and comforting. One thrust, now two and then three. So quick this pirouette. An arc of Fuchs’ blood streamed up, reaching for something, and finding Petrine’s lips. His tongue flickered over this new taste. Hot blood. Petrine and his lover feasting now; feasting on the blood of dying Lester Fuchs.

Thank you, his knife sang as it sailed again into Lester’s abdomen. Thank you, as it splayed his scrawny neck. Thank you, thank you.


Dark Justice -- Sixteen

A Souvenir for Petey

"Attorney Shank, my name is Detective Joseph Demity; this is my partner Detective Rhonda Jones. We’d like to ask you some questions."

The Shark gestured with his right hand for them to sit. He was breathing through a tube in his neck, shunted in just beneath the Adam’s apple. Over his mouth was a plastic device keeping the jaws somewhat ajar and blowing a gentle medicinal mist over the remains of his tongue, which had been stapled, and was swollen like a funky tomato. In his left arm, an intravenous line pumped electrolytes.

Merlin Shank was a lucky victim. He’d live, and he’d even be able to communicate orally after some rehabilitation. His days as a courtroom orator were probably over, but, truth be told, he’d purchased a high-price disability policy. If he could no longer litigate, he’d have plenty of money to invest.

Although the press had reported that his tongue had been severed, the truth was that something less than inch of tissue had been sliced off. Petrine had grabbed The Shark’s tongue with a pair of plyers, and pulled it taught. Whenever The Shark proved recalcitrant, Petrine would trace a faint track down the tongue with his switchblade, forcing The Shark to gag on his own blood.

It took all of about two minutes for Petrine to get what he needed. There was no doubt in his mind that The Shark had been truthful, and, indeed, The Shark had been. Even so, Petrine sliced about a one inch sliver from the left side of The Shark’s tongue. He dropped the meat into a baggie and stuffed a handkerchief into The Shark’s mouth before dumping him on the parkway. "A souvenir," he told his partner, who had kept a gun trained on The Shark’s throat throughout the ordeal.

The Shark’s surgeon explained his good fortune.

"Another quarter of an inch, and you most likely would have bled to death," Mr. Shank.

"You see, the tongue is served by ranine arteries. These are off-shoots from the linguae artery, which runs from your heart. It is, as you know, an extremely sensitive area. Heart patients often insert nitroglycerine tablets beneath the tongue for quick access to the heart; drug users often place crushed speed crystals beneath their tongues for an instant rush." How old was this doctor, twelve, maybe thirteen? Shank wasn’t listening, but the doctor kept talking. At least Shank’s wife, Janice, appeared attentive.

"Anyhow, the tongue is mostly water. The average male tongue weighs about 70 grams. We estimate the portion of yours," the doctor searched for the right verb," um ... missing weighed about 10 grams, and was about an inch long." Shank’s tongue had been stapled together; he felt like he had a throbbing picnic basket in his mouth, sharp straw poking this way and that. A mask covered his mouth, and his throat was dry, a pool of liquid kept collecting at the base of his throat. It was hard to swallow and a stream of liquid kept running down his chin.

"You did not lose as much blood as would be expected," the doctor continued. "We expect to discharge you in a couple of days, after the swelling subsides some and you can breath on your own. As soon as you are able, we will begin speech therapy," the doctor chirped, checking his clipboard to be sure he covered all the topics. He was an intern, and this was his first severed tongue case.

Merlin was miserable. His tongue, for Christ’s sake, his second joy stick. It was the key to his livelihood, and, frankly, to many hidden pleasures. Rehabilitation. Yeah, that’s rich, he thought. He tried to wiggle it and felt nothing. He wouldn’t for a while, his doctor told him. A consequence of shock.

"Attorney Shank, my name is Detective Joseph Demity; this is my partner Detective Rhonda Jones. We’d like to ask you some questions." Merlin wasn’t sure whether he was hearing this for the first time, or whether the two strangers had just arrived. He passed easily from dream to a pained alertness.

"Can you tell us who did this to you?" Demity asked. He took out a vest-sized spiral notebook and a blue ball point Bic pen. He started to hand them to Merlin.

"Ugnnnn," a sound seared Merlin’s throat. He winced, and shook his head no.

Demity looked over to Jones. Was Shank refusing to cooperate?

"Attorney Shank," Jones was speaking now. "You may not recall me. I was one the investigating officers in the Jakes larceny case you defended six or so years ago," Jones leaned closer to Shank’s bed, placing a hand on the mattress.

"You did a great job, even if we did get the conviction," Jones recalled a vicious cross-examination. It was only after the trial that she learned his nick-name was The Shark.

"What has happened to you is shocking, and I want to get the people who did this." Her voice was soft now, dropping a line of compassion to see what it would draw.

Shank seemed actually to shrink as she spoke. He was drawing into himself and hearing Petrine’s warning. "Next time I take the jewels, both of them," Petrine had said, as he nicked a testicle through Shank’s trousers. The press, fortunately, had not caught wind of that. "I will always know where to find you, counselor." Had Petrine actually said that, or was it a hallucination? Shank’s ears were still ringing with the sound of his own choking.

Shank shook his head no. His eyes were closed now.

Jones and Demity looked at one another, now unexpectedly helpless.

"Mrs. Shank?" Jones tried another avenue of attack. Janice sat in a corner eyeing the officers and her husband with the same wariness.

"Yes," she replied. "Call me, Janice." She did not offer her hand in response to Jones’.

"We need your husband’s cooperation," Jones looked again at Shank. She could not tell whether he was asleep. "Do you have any information that can help us figure out who did this?"

Janice knew little about her husband’s business. He liked it that way, and she’d learned long ago to keep her own counsel. It was simpler. Dinner out on Saturday’s, and talk about the boys, Randy, 12, and Simon, 10. Shank’s accountant paid the bills, and was always ready with extra cash if she ran dry. But she’d stopped asking her husband about his, well, affairs, a decade ago. Shortly after that she had stopped caring.

"I’m sorry. There is really nothing I can say," she said.

Demity and Jones were stumped.

"Well, let me leave you my card," Demity said, handing one to Janice and leaving another at Shank’s bedside. "When things settle down some, give us a call." Janice silent now, eyes open but as far away as her husband’s.

"We’ll check back tomorrow," Demity said.

Again nothing.

Outside the hospital, a phalanx of reporters swarmed over the detectives.

"We’ve been given solid and credible information that will help us resolve this case quickly," Demity said, lying through his teeth. "Although it is too soon to say that an arrest is imminent, we have suspects in mind, and are confident that it shall soon be solved."

----

Eight blocks away, Peter Petrine was watching the news.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said as he watched Demity speak. "Shank ain’t talking," a cigarette dangled from his lips as he muttered. Before him on the kitchen table was a zip lock bag. Petrine was busy wiping it again, this time with Windex. He didn’t want to leave any fingerprints.

"Smells like a fucking steak," he said aloud. There was no one at home with him, but he liked to anchor himself in the sound of his own voice.

In the bag before him was a browned and dried out thing that looked like a freeze-dried prune. It was still warm from the microwave. He planned to let it cool some before he dropped it off. He planned to wrap it in a news story about The Shark’s tongue.

Maybe he should send it Federal Express. That way he could sit across the street and watch him open it. "That would be freaky," he said and chuckled.

"Naw," he said, "too risky." Smiling now at the mere thought of it.

"I better take this one myself."


Dark Justice -- Fifteen

Bitten by a Shark

It is supposed to be simple, at least in theory. Two strangers are pulled suddenly and somehow into one another’s field of gravity. Their orbits intersect and a relationship or sorts is formed. Now the parties are no longer strangers. Each now in the eyes of the other the bearer of reciprocal rights and responsibilities. The alchemy which transforms strangers is the law, and the law is expressed in rules. Want to see magic? Watch the rule of law at work.

The law often made Jonathan Reardon’s head hurt. It wasn’t so simple. There was harmony in the law, to be sure. But there was so much hurt, and searing pain.

The pain started for Reardon in law school. There were long nights, nights he sat squirreled away in dark corridors of books called stacks. He’d sit reading cases, trying to discern the permanent in the never-ending sea of facts thrown his way. The library would close, and he’d trudge home through the dark streets of Hartford. The trees now mere shapes bearing principles somewhere beneath the bark. Would he ever see the real form animating them? And then at home, reading, reading, reading, and the taking of reams of notes. Sometimes fatigue would yield subtle deception: Is the print on this page really blue, or green or tinged with red? The page now held to a lamp, and the appearances undecipherable.

Something like despair cracks the skull of every law student. So many rules, and an infinity of cases swirling, churning and always beckoning. When has enough been read to really discern the law’s contours? At what point can a confident conclusion be reached?

And then the bar examination. Reardon took a course to prepare for the two-day ordeal. He had graduated from law school, but was still not deemed fit to sit with a client and throw darts at law’s board. To earn that right one must pass another test, the bar exam, a line that separated spectators from participants in law’s dance.

The bar review course taught him a sobering truth. The rules can be stated clearly and distinctly. It took a month or so of cramming these sugar plums down his mind’s gullet to prepare for the test. So long as he did not vomit them out before the bar exam, passing was possible. So why law school, then? Or was it the bar exam that was unnecessary? Another sinkhole; always questions without answers.

Reardon passed the bar exam the first time he took it. Soon, he began to meet clients, and suddenly his world was simple. There was no longer a distinction between that which appeared and an underlying reality. There were no deeper truths or underlying structures yielding patterns or intuitions of the divine. If God was silent, so too were the demons who made him seek a harbor in life’s storm. The world was now rendered in primary colors. He was a painter, a pointillist. Law’s rules were his colors, and his clients came to be painted in the hues of their hopes and dreams. He gauged success not in terms of justice achieved, but rather in his clients’ sense that the law had responded to their visions of themselves.

It was simple. At least it was simple for a decade or so.

"Merlin Shank on line three," Amelia buzzed him. Reardon was typing a brief and the call startled him.

"As in The Shark," Reardon responded. He was surprised. Merlin wasn’t actually a legend. He was a little young for that. But he was notorious. Appearing in court against him was a little like going to a fun house. Sure, each room had walls, a floor and a ceiling. But Merlin’s house was no home to most litigators. He was a wild man, through and through, as inclined to give a closing argument while standing on his table as he was to whisper imprecations into the ears of his adversaries while the jury was present in the room.

"Jon Reardon," Reardon thought it sounded businesslike and self-sufficient to answer in this manner.

"Hey, Jon. It’s Merlin Shank," at once self-important and ingratiating. "I need to see you. Can I come by," a slight crack now in the facade. "It’s, well, it’s a matter of some urgency."

"Sure, Merlin. Let me check my calendar," Reardon said reaching for a diary.

"Well, Jon, I’m just around the corner. I can be there in five minutes," Shank said. No request. A simple announcement.

"Sure, sure," Reardon said, suddenly intrigued and put out at the same time. "C’mon by."

The Law Offices of Jonathon Reardon and Associates was easy to find. It was located on the corner Main and Vine, Katy-corner to the Superior Court. Years before, it had been a clothing store. But Reardon bought it for a song, renovated it and put his name in big letters across a new frosted pane glass window. There was enough space for his secretary, a paralegal and a couple of young lawyers. Reardon’s office was in the very back. He had his own door so that he could come and go without having to engage in small talk with his employees.

"Thanks for seeing me, Jon," as always, Shank was impeccably dressed. A Brooks Brothers’ suit, fancy-looking wing-tipped shoes and a regimental tie. He looked like a barrel of expensive wine.

"I need to engage your services," Shank spoke so quickly, Reardon never had a chance to be gracious about this unexpected imposition.

"Well, what’s the issue, Merlin?" Reardon asked. He made it a point never to take a case until he knew what his client wanted. It was safer that way. Some clients did not want their lawyers to succeed; all they wanted was a whipping boy, someone to scream at who was required to listen. Reardon had learned through hard experience to reject the cases of such clients.

"I want you to hold this in trust," Shank said, sliding an envelope across the table.

"Hold it unless and until something," he paused now, looking somewhere within himself for a word to bridge the gap between bravado and terror, "unless and until something happens to me."

Reardon left the envelope laying on his desk.

"Are you in some sort of trouble, Merlin?" Reardon sensed something like panic.

"Jon, I trust you. I need you to do this for me," Shank said, and he reached into a coat pocket for a wad of bills. "Here’s a retainer. Nine thousand in cash, Jon. No need for a contract in this case." Merlin wasn’t leaving a paper trail. No need to report a cash transaction to the federal government, so long as the sum did not exceed $10,000. And the lack of a written contract meant less bait for other sharks trolling in Merlin’s wake.

"I’m flattered, Merlin, I really am," said Reardon, all the while thinking that $9,000 about covered a month’s expenses. "Can you tell me more?" Was Shank trying to entrap him? Caution, caution always when a fellow lawyer offers cash.

Merlin paused. He shook his head no and began to speak.

"This is privileged, right?" Shank asked.

"It is if you tell me you are engaging me as your lawyer, and not as a mere acquaintance," Reardon caught himself. Never call a client a friend, he reminded himself.

"Have you been reading the papers?" Shank asked, eyes darting in search of ghosts.

"Well, yeah, but ..."

"Lester Fuchs is missing. He was murdered. It is that simple. This envelope would permit the police to close the case," Shank said. "However, you cannot disclose it to anyone unless something happens to me, do you understand?" Shank urgent now.

"Yes, but ..." Fuchs, the son of Associate Justice Harmon Fitzgerald, had been missing now for months. The press reported his disappearance; gossip had concluded that the boy had been murdered.

"There are no buts about it, Jon. I did not commit a crime, nor am I involved in any fraud. There is nothing in the envelope that taints me, or will taint you. Understood?" Shank said. Urgent now. "You have my word."

Reardon was approaching comfort until all was staked on Shank’s word.

"Well, this is most unusual," he said. "Let me think on it." A warning bell was sounding somewhere over the horizon.

"Of course," Shank said, "this retainer," pushing the bills closer to Reardon, "will be replenished with a like sum periodically. I need you to hold this in trust for no more than three, maybe four years."

In the moment Reardon hesitated, Shank was on his feet and out the door. The cash was left on Reardon’s desk. A new client; a new relationship between rules now to be strained and sifted through the law’s rules.