Blind Justiceby William Bernhardt
When a friend is accused of murder, Ben Kincaid battles to clear her name
Ben Kincaid is too honest for corporate law. When his refusal to compromise his ideals gets him tossed out of Tulsa’s largest, most corrupt firm, he hangs out his shingle on the rough side of town. He works for peanuts—and occasionally chickens—but is safe in the/b>… See more details below
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When a friend is accused of murder, Ben Kincaid battles to clear her name
Ben Kincaid is too honest for corporate law. When his refusal to compromise his ideals gets him tossed out of Tulsa’s largest, most corrupt firm, he hangs out his shingle on the rough side of town. He works for peanuts—and occasionally chickens—but is safe in the knowledge that he is helping people who have nowhere else to turn. His newest client is also one of his oldest friends: Christina McCall, a onetime colleague in the world of corporate law. Christina is beautiful, daringly dressed, and on trial for a murder she didn’t commit. The last thing Christina remembers is the smell of her mother’s perfume. When she comes out of her stupor, her client is dead, the gun is in her hand, and the police are cuffing her wrists. Proving her innocence may be an impossible, but the impossible is becoming Kincaid’s specialty.
Read an Excerpt
A Ben Kincaid Novel of Suspense (Book Two)
By William Bernhardt
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 William Bernhardt
All rights reserved.
There was something wrong with Ben's office, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what. Maybe it was the dozen or so chickens running amuck on the linoleum floor. Perhaps it was the toilet paper strewn throughout the lobby. Or possibly it was the man pointing a gun at Ben's face.
"Is there something I can do for you?" Ben asked, trying to appear calm.
"Not really," said the large, unshaven man holding the weapon. "I just come in to blow your head off."
"Oh," Ben said. It was hard to know what to say.
Jones, Ben's male secretary, stood up behind the small card table he called his secretarial station. "Is there something I should be doing, Boss?"
"Call 911," Ben said succinctly.
"Right away, Boss." Jones picked up the phone receiver and began to dial.
The intruder adjusted his aim slightly in Jones's direction. "You try it and I'll shoot the phone right out of your hand."
Jones hesitated. "Come on. You don't look like you're nearly that good a shot."
"You're right," the man replied, "I'll probably miss."
Jones hung up the phone.
"Look," Ben said, "at least tell me what this is all about. You know, grant the last wish of the condemned."
The man looked at Ben suspiciously. "Why should I?"
Ben thought for a moment. "So I can rue my fatal error in the hour of my doom?"
The man did not seem impressed.
"So I know what file to put the coroner's report in," Jones offered. "I hate it when the filing backs up."
Ben rolled his eyes. Thanks, Jones.
This line of reasoning, however, seemed to engage the man's attention. "Try the file labeled Loving versus Loving," he said bitterly.
Ben remembered the case. The surnames stuck in his mind; they were pretty ironic, given that it was a divorce case. "You must be Mr. Loving."
"Damn straight," Loving said, pushing the gun closer to Ben's face. "And you're the man who took my woman away from me."
"I'm the attorney who represented her in the divorce," Ben corrected. "Why didn't you show up at the hearing?"
Loving's broad, strong shoulders expanded. "Some things is between a man and a woman," he said. "I don't hold with airin' dirty laundry in public."
"When you didn't appear at the hearing or send a lawyer to represent you," Ben explained, "the matter became uncontested." He saw in the corner of his eye that Jones had quietly lifted the phone receiver again and was beginning to dial. He tried to keep Loving distracted. "The judge granted the divorce by default. She had no choice, really, under the circumstances."
Loving took a step closer. "I heard you told some disgusting, filthy lies about me in that courtroom."
Ben cleared his throat. "I ... merely recited the allegations of my client."
"Like sayin' I liked to dress up in high heels and panty hose?"
"Uhh ... I believe that was one of the reasons your ex wanted a divorce," Ben said weakly.
"And what was that stuff about barnyard animals?" Loving growled.
Ben stared at the ceiling. "Oh, was there something about barnyard animals? I don't recall exactly...." He felt a bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. Couldn't Jones dial any faster?
"You made my life a living hell!" Loving shouted. He was waving the gun wildly back and forth. "You took away the best woman I ever knew. Now you're going to pay for it."
"I don't suppose it would make any difference if I told you today was my birthday?" Ben asked.
Loving cocked the hammer. "Consider this your present."
"If you really love your wife so much, why don't you try to win her back?"
"Win her back?"
"Yeah. Maybe you two could get remarried."
"It's too late for that."
"Of course it's not too late," Ben assured him. "Reconciliations happen all the time. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner got married three times!"
Loving appeared to consider this. "I don't know...."
"You've got to court her, that's all. Like when you were first dating. Bring her flowers, candy. Write her a poem. Hold hands in the moonlight."
"We never did any of that."
Ben frowned. "You must have done something romantic when you were courting."
"Courting?" Loving snorted. "I met Babs in a bar downtown. After a few drinks, we did the hokeypokey in the back of my semi. It wasn't no big deal. Damned if she didn't turn up pregnant, though. So we had to get married."
"Well then," Ben said, trying to salvage himself, "so much the better. This will all be new to her." He snapped his fingers. "I bet I have some old love poems I could loan you."
"You really think this could work?" Loving asked. He began to smile, however slightly.
"You'll never know until you try. But I think you two crazy kids could patch things up, assuming you don't make a tragic mistake that sends you to the penitentiary for the rest of your life."
"Babs might come back to me?"
"I think it's entirely possible."
"Well, I don't," Loving said. The last vestiges of a smile faded from his face. He leveled the gun at Ben's nose and fired.
Jones cracked the ice out of the tray. He wrapped the ice in a washcloth and tied it with a rubber band. After struggling with the person-proof bottle cap, he popped a few Tylenol tablets into his pocket. Just in case. He returned to Ben's tiny office and walked to the ratty sofa on the far wall.
He brushed Ben's hand aside and placed the ice pack on his forehead. "How does that feel?"
"Cold," Ben answered.
"Is it having a calming effect?"
"At the moment I don't think a hundred winged seraphs strumming Brahms's Lullaby on their harps would have a calming effect. I just got shot at, remember?"
"Well, yeah," Jones said, "by a man with a toy pistol containing a little flag with the word BOOM! on it. We're not exactly talking Lee Harvey Oswald here."
"Easy for you to say. The little flag didn't poke you in the eye. I nearly lost a contact." He read the expression on Jones's face. "I was startled, okay?"
"You don't have to tell me," Jones said. "I was there. I saw you swoon."
"I did not swoon. I lost my balance."
"If you say so." Jones tried not to smile.
"I can still hear that man's maniacal laughter. What was it he said? 'You put me through hell, Kincaid, so I decided to let you see what it was like.' What a sicko."
"Yeah. It was kind of funny, though." Jones glanced at Ben's somber expression. "In a sick sort of way, I mean."
"That's what I thought you meant." Ben covered his eyes with the ice pack. "Incidentally, Jones, this may be none of my business, but why are there chickens running all over my office?"
"Frank Brannon finally decided to pay his bill. He didn't have any money. But he has a surplus of hens."
"Great. This is what I get for taking a tractor repossession case."
"I wasn't aware you were in a position to choose."
"Yeah, well, nonetheless." Ben rubbed the ice pack up and down the sides of his face. "Chickens. Jeez, that'll help pay the rent. And think of the convenience, if a famine should suddenly strike Tulsa."
"Speaking of paying the rent, Boss—I don't like to be a nag, but my paycheck is overdue."
"That's true. Unfortunately, I'm fresh out of cash. But feel free to take all the chickens you want. By the way, is all that toilet paper still littering the lobby?"
"No. I cleaned that up right after the police hauled off Mr. Loving for assault with a practical joke."
"Jones," Ben said, pointedly ignoring the jibe, "may I ask who T.P.'d my office?"
"Who do you think?"
"Right." Ben stretched out on the sofa. "If you'll be so kind as to close the door on your way out, Jones, I'm going to lie here quietly for a few hours and see if I can bring my heart rate back down to the three-digit numbers."
Jones didn't move. "Boss?"
"Was that true, what you said?"
"About my heart rate?"
"No. About Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner."
"Well ... they divorced and remarried once."
"Oh. You lied."
"I did not lie. I ... exaggerated." He touched the reddened skin around his eye gingerly. "Under the circumstances it was the best I could come up with."
Jones still hesitated.
"Wasn't the Simmons trial scheduled to continue at ten o'clock today?"
Ben looked at his watch. "Ohmigosh. It's already ten till! Jones, you're supposed to keep me on time for my appointments!"
"Sorry, Boss. I was distracted by the gunplay."
Ben grabbed his briefcase and bolted out the door, still pressing the ice pack to his head. If he ran all the way to the courthouse, he just might make it.CHAPTER 2
Ben fought his way out of the crowded elevator and scrambled toward Judge Hart's courtroom on the fifth floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse. Christina was waiting for him just outside.
"What's the matter, Ben?" she asked, grinning from ear to ear. "Forget to set the alarm clock?"
He ran up to her, gasping for breath. "I've been awake for hours. It was the gunfight that slowed me down."
"Gunfight? What happened?"
"I'll tell you later. Where's Judge Hart?"
"She hasn't taken the bench yet. She had some arraignments she had to call before the trial resumes."
"Thank God for small miracles."
"Yeah. Your planets must be in alignment." Christina tossed her long strawberry blonde hair behind her shoulders. She was wearing a short leather skirt, hip boots, and yellow leotards. Standard Christina accoutrements. "Incidentally, Ben—happy birthday."
Ben gave her a quelling stare. "You promised you wouldn't tell anyone."
"Chill out already. I haven't told anyone. But I do have a little something for you. Will you be in your office later?"
"As soon as the trial ends."
"Mind if I drop by?"
"My door is always open to you, Christina. As long as you don't start snooping around for information your boss can use against me in court." He glanced at the courtroom doors. "Is Mrs. Simmons inside?"
"Yeah. I think you need to comfort her. She looks les miserables."
"In what way?"
"Oh, the usual. Sweaty palms, knocking knees."
Ben nodded. "Everybody gets the jitters before they take the stand. But thanks for the tip." If Christina said talk to the client, Ben talked to the client. She had first-rate instincts, in addition to being the best legal assistant he had ever known. Pity she was on the other side.
Ben and Christina met and first worked together during Ben's brief tenure as an associate at Raven, Tucker & Tubb, Tulsa's largest, swankiest law firm. After he got the boot, she quit in protest and started working for Swayze & Reynolds. The change seemed to be good for her; the managing partner, Quinn Reynolds, was giving her important assignments and access to their most prominent clients. As far as Ben could tell, she was very successful, although success hadn't improved her wardrobe or her penchant for abusing French clichés.
As they entered the courtroom together, Ben saw Reynolds shoot Christina a nasty look. She'd probably get chewed out later for fraternizing with the enemy. Although he was the managing partner at Swayze & Reynolds, Reynolds was, as a rule, arrogant, pretentious, and generally unlikable. Worst of all, he was a lousy lawyer—always obstreperous and unwilling to compromise. He liked to promote settlement by way of harassment and delaying tactics, both of which Ben had been fighting throughout this entire case. Reynolds would probably be ostracized by the majority of the legal community, but for one minor detail. His wife sat on the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Ben had heard people complain about Reynolds for months, but the stories always ended the same: "Hell, I'd like to tell the jerk what I really think of him, but what can you do? He sleeps with the judge."
Ben found his client, Amy Simmons, sitting at plaintiff's table by herself. She wore a tense, forlorn expression. Amy had been rear-ended in a car accident several months earlier. She brought a negligence action against the driver of the car that hit her, Tony Lombardi, seeking damages for her injuries. Reynolds was representing Lombardi and the insurance company that carried his policy.
"Morning, Amy. Sorry I'm late."
She smiled faintly. "It's all right. That legal assistant on the other side told me you were practicing your closing argument."
Another favor he owed Christina. "Do you feel secure about your testimony? Are there any other questions you wanted to ask me?"
Amy's face tightened. "Do I really have to go up there in front of the judge and everybody?"
"I'm afraid so." He patted her hand. "Don't worry about it, Amy. I'll be here the whole time. You'll do fine. Promise."
"I hope so," she said nervously. "I really do."
After Judge Helen Hart entered the courtroom, she reassembled the jury and resumed the trial. Judge Hart was in her mid-forties and had been on the bench long enough to approach her work with a sense of grace and humor Ben found extremely refreshing. A good judge could make a tense trial like this one much more bearable.
Ben's only remaining witness was Mrs. Simmons; she was the make-or-break witness for their case. The medical witnesses were perfectly convincing, but if Amy didn't persuade the jury she had been injured in the auto accident and was still suffering resultant damage, the jury would never enter a verdict in her favor.
After she took the stand, Ben steered Amy gently through the direct examination they had prepared and practiced countless times in advance of trial. She was extremely nervous, but her answers were solid, and she appeared sincere. She discussed her neck injury and the symptoms she experienced periodically: the sharp, stabbing pain, the uncontrollable spasms, the inability to hold her head erect. Her doctor said she had a severe soft tissue injury and, after performing some minor surgery, he prescribed medication and physical therapy for the rest of her life.
After they completed their prepared questions, Ben stepped away from the podium. Amy's testimony had been fine, but it hadn't really captured the jurors' heartstrings. It was a little too canned, too pat. Ben knew he needed to depart from the script and ask some zingers artfully designed to elicit jury sympathy.
"Amy, are you able to enjoy the same quality of life you had before the accident?"
Amy looked down at her hands. "Oh, you know. I do all right."
Hardly a stirring response. "Amy, are you still able to play tennis?"
"Well, you know, Mr. Kincaid, I never really enjoyed tennis that much."
"What about your golf game?"
"Well, now that I have grandchildren, I don't heed to be out chasing a little ball all over the green."
Ben took a deep breath. "Amy, are you embarrassed when your neck starts to twitch in public?"
"Oh, my. You know, I don't give much thought to what other people think."
Sheesh. This called for drastic action. Ben approached the stand and leaned over the rail. "Amy. I know you're trying to be brave and uncomplaining, but you must be honest with the jury. I can see your neck trembling. It hurts, doesn't it? It hurts right now."
She pressed her hand against her neck. "Yes," she whispered.
Good girl. He was leading the witness, of course, but Reynolds was probably too dim to notice. "It hurts every day, doesn't it? So badly you can barely tolerate it?"
Her entire head was shaking. Her nod was barely perceptible.
"And if you can't afford to pay for the medication and the physical therapy, that pain is going to continue unabated for the rest of your life, isn't it?"
Her eyes were welling up with tears. "I-I guess so," she said.
"Thank you. No more questions, your honor."
Ben returned to plaintiff's table, pleased. It was a struggle, but Amy finally managed to tell the jury what they needed to know. Just let Reynolds try to take her apart on cross. If he got rough with her, the jury would hate his effete little guts.
Reynolds walked slowly to the podium. He obviously saw the dilemma as clearly as Ben, and as a result, wasn't sure how to begin. "Mrs. Simmons, my name is Quinn Reynolds." He stood for a moment, poised in thought. "I represent the defendant, Mr. Lombardi."
"And his insurance company," Amy added.
"Move to strike," Reynolds said, without missing a beat.
"Granted," Judge Hart said. "The jury will disregard the witness's last remark."
"And I move for a mistrial," Reynolds said.
"Don't you wish," the judge replied. "Proceed with your questions, counselor."
"Mrs. Simmons, you claim you have suffered a soft tissue injury to your neck. Is that correct?"
"That's what the doctor told me."
"But Mrs. Simmons, isn't what the doctor actually said—" Reynolds flipped through his notebook, then turned it over and flipped through it again. "Now where did I put that?" He walked back to defendant's table and began burrowing through his huge stash of documents.
Excerpted from Blind Justice by William Bernhardt. Copyright © 1992 William Bernhardt. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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