“Are the papers in order?” Carol Switzer asked through her Bluetooth headset. She shuffled papers on her desk into a manila folder, slipped them into her Italian-leather briefcase. “Good. I have an appointment. After that is lunch with the prosecutor. I’ll see you there.”
There was a short pause as she stuck a blazer-clad arm through the briefcase’s strap, pulled her overcoat off the office chair. She laid the jacket on her arm, whirled ’round for the door across the cramped office.
“No we’re just going over some depositions. The other work can’t begin until we get those files.” She slipped from the office into the large, open lobby. Her shadow sliced through the rays of sunlight that splayed over the marble entryway and reception desk.
She threw a casual hand at the receptionist there as she passed, continued her conversation, “Yes. Third street… Uh-huh. See you then.”
She tapped a finger against her ear, pulled open the door. Her heels clacked her path from the building, down short steps to the sidewalk. She tossed an arm up at an approaching yellow cab, slipped into its backseat, set her briefcase beside her.
“100 West, please,” Carol instructed. The cabby nodded, silent, and idled forward into traffic.
Single, thirty-three, and sharp-minded, Carol was a junior partner in what was once the second-most renowned law-firm in Oakton. She spoke quickly, was always organized, and would keep her weekly, noon appointment with characteristic punctuality as she had for nearly a decade.
Long ago Carol needed Kathy more than she was willing to admit, and while her trauma had passed, the two had grown close. The relationship was a mixed blessing; a crutch in the worst of times that Carol felt compromised her independence. While Kathy agreed, neither of them were willing to part with the other.
She rode down Oakton’s packed main-streets at a crawl. The cluttered roads sandwiched between high-rises and skyscrapers of downtown were sprinkled with low-roofed, single story buildings here and there. Her mind flitted over her past as the cab gathered speed and the buildings turned to a blur of neutral hues.
Despite a heavy lock on its mental imagery, her past had been especially relevant lately. Unfortunately, their case as Prosecutors on behalf of the State was much worse than Carol’s own victim testimony had been. The several young women kidnapped and raped, had been murdered. Unlike Carol, the victims had never escaped their captor, faced him in court to point the finger at him. She would have never considered her experience lucky until now.
Her stomach churned at the thought. Spurred emotions aside, her past had caused unwanted inquiry from her boss when he asked whether or not she would like to recuse herself from the case. Like the others in the office, he knew her history. In a way, his concern was comforting, but it was too important to her to continue the case. She had faced her own accuser, helped to put him behind bars without chance of parole. The dead girls couldn’t do that, but Carol could. In a way, she was the only one left to do it for them.
Moreover, she refused to show such a weakness so early in her career. These cases were the reason she became a lawyer. She wasn’t going to allow any of these sick bastards to roam free: a determination that had driven her through through law school, then from intern to junior partner. She wasn’t about to let her goal hold her back, no matter how gruesome the facts were.
The cab turned from the main streets into the suburbs. Old town houses jam-packed like cookie-cutter formed dough on a pan lined the streets with barely enough space between them to park a vehicle. Carol’s eyes scanned the area, came to a rest on a distant point as her mind raced onward.
Though cases like these were usually left to the state, a recent change in Ohio’s law made it possible for private firms like Carol’s to act as proxies. Provided a firm applied for review and certification, and passed, the State would relegate case in exchange for tax breaks. Despite mild outrage over the controversial process, it allowed struggling firms to pull themselves up little by little. It was a two-fold gain; the State was able to process cases faster where there was too much crime, and the firms were able to stay in business where too many lawyers had flooded the market place.
Despite their past reputation, Carol’s firm was one of those struggling minorities. There was simply too much competition to go around, a fact that never ceased to be humorous to some. There were too many legal vampires for them to feed equally. Even Carol saw the humor in it at times, but was otherwise too hungry. While her appetite for justice kept her sated when the office was forced to work patent law, review corporate contracts, or something equally innocuous, eventually it longed for her to return to her purpose. The Investigative Act, as it had come to be known, allowed her to continue fulfilling that purpose; legal attack dog for the weak and victimized.
The cab slowed to a crawl as Carol directed the driver toward Kathy’s two-story home and office, sandwiched between the other homes with their identical, two-story vertical climbs. Each one had exactly enough front and side yard to drag a trash can through, the “back-yard” was little more than a plot of cement and gravel.
She flashed a coded credit-card at the cabby’s electronic eye-reader on his dashboard, then stepped out into the afternoon. The cab rolled away with a bellow of the engine, headed for the faded brick and cracked paint of the front porch. The few, budding flowers that flanked the doorway still showed the darkened wetness from the chilly dew the night before.
Her hand rose for the bell, stabbed a finger at it. A moment later the door opened on Kathy’s late-fifties gray hair and bright eyes.
“Hey. Come on in,” she beckoned with a sweep of a hand.
Carol stepped up, in, moved from the small foyer and into the office. It spanned one-half of house’s length, a warm, corduroy couch against the back wall in the outcrop of a large, floor to ceiling bay-window. Carol took her seat on the far-right, popped off her heels to massage an achy foot. Kathy maneuvered her rolling chair over, took a quiet seat in front of Carol.
The formality of these sessions had relaxed over the extreme length of time Carol had attended them. By all rights, Kathy should have retired at least five years ago, but she had never felt comfortable with the idea.
Kathy sipped from a coffee mug, “Tired?”
“Very. Last brief told us there was little evidence aside from the last girl’s testimony. For a fair jury that would be enough. Or it used to be anyhow. Now when a teenage girl points fingers at someone with that much money, there’s no guarantees.”
Kathy expertly skirted the NDA, “Company man, huh?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Carol replied as she tensed a pair of fingers at the corners of her eyes. “There’s no doubt they’re paying off the local media ’til its over to keep things quiet.”
Kathy frowned, “That sounds rather corrupt.”
Carol’s hand fell to her side. She heaved a sigh, “The whole system’s this way. Short of stopping the trial to investigate the defense firm, there’s nothing we can do. The other side’ll always play dirty when they know their defendant’s guilty. And it’s not like there’s much we can do anyway. We’re swamped as it is. I’ve learned to pick my battles.”
“Is that how you feel? That this is a battle?”
Carol sat upright, waggled an accusatory finger, “Uh-uh, don’t you do that to me. I know when you’ve got your game face on.”
Kathy chuckled, “Occupational hazard. I’m curious though, do you really think he’s guilty, or is it your own experience condemning him?”
Carol swallowed hard, steeled her nerves against the bile in her gut. “I’ll admit it doesn’t help, but my experience tells me he is guilty, especially considering the girl’s testimony.”
“What is it that makes you so sure?”
“Aside from the teenage girl that’s testified he raped her? Well there’s the seven other families who’ve presented internet chat-logs, photographic evidence, and witness testimony that their daughters all had contact with the guy before they were found murdered.” Kathy nodded to herself. “It’s the type, Kathy. I know them. The guy’s got money and power, thinks it makes him immune– can do anything he wants. Usually, no matter what the anything is, his money’ll let him get away with it. I’ve seen a lot like him. They’re all the same, their vices just change.”
There was a certain, stoicism to Kathy’s voice, “I guess I can’t really argue with that logic.”
Carol’s shoulder slumped, “Money is power, especially in this game.” Her eyes fixed on a distant point with contemplation, “These wealthy, powerful killers? They never change.”
It was roughly 1:15 when Carol sat in a wrap-around booth at the Fine Divine steakhouse across from uptown Oakton’s courthouse. Her boss settled beside her, the State Prosecutor on across from him on the booth’s far-side. The latter looked like a caricature of Pee-Wee Herman with a darker face, and sunken, purple eyes beneath his thick-rimmed glasses. He even wore the brown tweed and bow-tie all too familiar to the aforementioned star to complete the look.
The lunch was supposedly a formality, but Edward Mordin, her boss and the lead partner in the firm had shown up in his street clothes with a less than sunny disposition. Since the statehouse had begun reviews into its proxies, the firms contracted were subject to frequent intrusions such as this. Most of the time, it was a luncheon conference or a day-long conference with a State Prosecutor. Neither was the most pleasant experience, but Ed appeared even more aggravated than usual.
Lunch went smoothly, joined mid-way through by Carol’s intern, Sheryl Hunter. Twenty-eight and still in law school, she met them with the latest transcripts between the defendant and his attorney. Fortunately for them, in recent years the largely useless ring of government surveillance across the country had allowed for transcribed recordings from any and all criminal suspects in state and county prisons. The hope was that anyone guilty might slip up in front of their lawyers, bring a hasty resolution to the trial.
In truth, it had made things much more difficult for those that invoked it. The existing stigma against lawyers as society’s pariahs only worsened when Congress passed the necessary Constitutional amendments. Now, they were not only pariahs but also the number one source of intrusions on citizen privacy; ground-zero for the downfall of liberty. In practice, it was much more complicated, and only possible because of the existing surveillance infrastructure. Moreover, only public or government-offices and buildings were applicable. In fact, the surveillance network had long been entrenched and utilized by the FBI, NSA, DHS and countless other government acronyms. The difference was these entities were secretive, clandestine, and harder to track. Law firms were required to file extensive paperwork, register every action they took with the State and Federal governments. It made them easier to spot, painted targets on their backs as the Grim Reapers of privacy.
The defense had done well in keeping this case quiet though. For the most part Carol was thankful for that. A lynch mob forming in the public would make it harder for all involved, from the defense to the jury, Carol included.
Sherry slid into place between Carol and the Pee-Wee wannabe, shuffled through her briefcase, handed out manila file-folders. In his usual manner Ed had filled more than a third of the table with his files, the manila folders obsessively laid-out before him. The five foot long table was considerably smaller now that Ed’s obsessive-compulsiveness had reared its ugly head. Even Art Warren, the look-alike, scrunched back uncomfortably, as if fearful of disturbing the precisely arranged folders.
For a long while they discussed the trial, ethics and etiquette, while Ed downed glass after glass of fruity, feminine drinks with an out-thrust pinky-finger. The other three stuck to soda and water, ate small meals before Art finally announced his departure. He excused himself with friendly goodbye, and left to a grunt from Ed. Carol and Sherry relaxed, called over a waiter to order more drinks.
Ed seemed especially disgruntled, unusual for him after so many drinks, but all the more apparent when he suddenly switched to scotch.
It arrived in time for Carol to mask her sincere concerns with amusement, “What bug’s up your ass, Ed?”
A corner of Ed’s mouth lifted with a grunt, “Bastard.” He threw back a gulp of scotch. Carol exchanged a confused look with Sherry. Ed smacked his chops, belched, “DA’s called for a quick end to the trial. Says the jury’s gonna end up deadlocked if we don’t move fast. Too many of ’em think there’s not enough evidence. Sonsabitches think eight witness testimonies putting the creep with the girls aren’t enough anymore.” He took another slug of whiskey, “It’s those damn cop shows! Everyone want’s DNA now. Seven dead girls isn’t good enough? Bullshit!”
The level of scorn in Ed’s voice was unusual. His glassy eyes met Carols, her face blank, lost for words. Sherry spoke her sentiments aloud, “Wait, what’re you saying, Ed?”
His hand tightened around his rock-glass, “They want rehab now. DA’s callin’ for it, defense is callin’ for it– ‘N then that little pee-wee Herman fuck wants to lectures me on ethics? I been in business thirty years and this’ first time I’ve seen a jury so hung it could choke a horse. Seems like everyone’s on that bastard’s payroll.”
“Rehab? That’s it?” Sherry asked, confounded. “For multiple counts of abduction, rape, and murder?”
Carol’s heart sank. Failure coursed through her as she stared into her drink. Ed’s voice intoned over her distant stare, “DA’s really fucked the poodle this time. We’re gonna get it for this one.”
For all of his candor, Ed had always held a passion for justice. Like Carol though, he’d begun to see the system was just as corrupt as the people he’d used it to put away. His real reason for drinking so heavily was obvious now; he needed the courage to tell Carol about rehab. He couldn’t face her otherwise; look in her eyes, tell her they’d failed, and the bastard was going to walk. Eight teenage girls, eight lives wasted, and eight families who’d get no justice. He couldn’t bare to a tell a former victim that– someone who could’ve been one of them– that he’d failed her.
When the sentencing came down, Carol sat in the court room, stone-faced. She stared at the man as he stood to be read his verdict. His black Armani was pressed just above his wrist and ankle shackles, the mockery of a line of justice visible between those barriers of fine black and tarnished steel. A smug satisfaction huddled over his brow as she burned his features into her mind. When the judge spoke, she heard nothing; only saw the slow creep of perfect, white-teeth that appeared over a dampened echo, as if her ears were submerged in water. The killer turned in slow-motion, his dark eyes met hers for a half-second above that sickly grin and those perfect, white-teeth.
He followed through in his turn to exit the courtroom. Carol watched, muttered to herself, “I’ll get you yet, you son of a bitch.”