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In the middle of the night
Jaywalker is dreaming when the ringing of his phone jars him awake. Something about hiking with his wife in the Canadian Rockies. He understands right away it has to have been a dream, because his wife has been dead for nearly ten years now, and he hasn't hiked the Rockies in twice that long.
Groping in the darkness for the phone, his first fear is for his daughter. Is she out driving? Riding with some pimply-faced boyfriend who's had his learner's permit for two weeks now and thinks of driving as some sort of video game? Then he remembers. His daughter is in her early thirties. She has a husband with no pimples, a child of her own, a career, and a house in New Jersey.
"Hello?" Jaywalker says into the phone, then holds his breath and readies himself for the worst. The clock radio next to the phone glows 3:17.
"Pete?" says an unfamiliar male voice.
"I think," says Jaywalker, "that you may have dialed the wrong number. What number were you trying to"
The line goes dead. No "Sorry," no "Oops." Just a click, followed by silence and eventually a dial tone.
Jaywalker recradles the phone. He lies on his back in the dark, feeling his pulse pounding in his temples. Relief and annoyance duel for his attention, but only briefly. For already, Jaywalker is elsewhere. He's lying in bed in the dark, to be sure, but somehow his hair is brown instead of gray, his face less lined, his body more muscular. And his wife lies beside him, her warm body pressed against his back.
"Who was it?" she asks him.
"A mother," he says. "A mother whose son has just been arrested. A rape case. And it sounds like a bad one."
"For them," says Jaywalker's wife. "But that means a good one for you, right?"
"Right," agrees Jaywalker. He's not yet thirty, this younger version of him. He's been out of Legal Aid for a little over a year now, struggling to build a practice on his own. And struggling is definitely the operative word here. So he knows his wife is right: what's bad for the young man and his family is at the same time good for the lawyer and his. One of the strange paradoxes of criminal law that Jaywalker will never quite get comfortable with: that his earning a living is dependent upon the suffering of others.
What this younger Jaywalker doesn't know, what he has absolutely no way of knowing at this point, as he lies in the dark, is that this new case will be different, that it will mark a crossroads in his career and in his life. Should he live to be a hundred, no case that will ever come his way will end up affecting him as this one will. Before he's done with it, and it with him, it will change him in ways that will be as profound as they are unimaginable. It will transform him, molding him and pounding him and shaping him into the lawyer and the man he is today, almost thirty years later. So this is more than just the case he'll forever wake up to when the phone rings in the middle of the night. This is the case that he'll retry in his mind over and over again for the rest of his days, changing a phrase here, adding a word there, tweaking his summation for the hundredthno, the thousandthtime. And long after he's grown old and senile and has forgotten the names and faces and details of other cases, this is the one that Jaywalker will remember on his deathbed, as clearly and as vividly as if it began yesterday.
No doubt whatsoever
That the case had come Jaywalker's way at 3:17 in the morning, while unusual, was not entirely unprecedented. That it had come by way of his home telephone was actually rather typical. Jaywalker had early on developed the habit of giving out his home number liberally. It was but one of many things that distinguished him from his colleagues, who never would have thought of doing such a thing, the functional equivalent of a physician's house call. Moreover, as technology advanced, with the advent of beepers, pagers, car phones, cell phones and BlackBer-ries, Jaywalker stuck to the practice with characteristic stubbornness, continuing to invite clients and their families to call him at home whenever the need arose. As it had apparently arisen for Inez Kingston on that particular night in September of 1979.
Then, as now, Jaywalker had answered with a fearful "Hello?" notwithstanding the fact that he knew his daughter was safely in bed upstairs and wouldn't even be of driving age for another twelve or thirteen years. Whatever the circumstance, there seems to be something about the midnight phone call that inspires instant dread.
"Mr. Jaywalker?" the woman had said.
"This is Inez Kingston. You represented my son Darren last year. Maybe you remember."
"Sure," said Jaywalker. "I remember." The name did sound familiar, though if pressed, he would have had trouble attaching a face to it, or recalling what the charges had been and how the case had turned out.
"I'm afraid it's Darren again," she said. "They've got him at the precinct. They say he raped some women. They won't tell me any more."
Jaywalker jotted down Inez's number in the dark, something he'd learned to do. Otherwise, brilliant ideas that came to him in the middle of the night had a way of vanishing before morning. Written down on paper, they tended to lose some of their brilliance, but at least they survived.
He found the number for the 43rd Precinct. He knew from the precinct number that it had to be somewhere in the Bronx, but other than that, he didn't have a clue. Ninety percent of his practice was in Manhattan, which he liked to think of in sports language as his home court. Of course, at this particular stage of his career, the math wasn't all that hard to do: it didn't exactly require a calculator to convert nine out of ten cases into a percentage.
He reached the precinct and had the desk officer transfer his call to the squad room. There a detective confirmed that they did indeed have a Darren Kingston locked up. He'd been booked for five separate rapes and would be making court in the morning.
Jaywalker thanked the detective and called Inez back. He told her what he'd been able to find out, and offered to meet her in court at nine o'clock. Before hanging up, he told her not to worry. Like most people, if you woke Jaywalker up in the middle of the night, he could be pretty stupid.
It took him an hour or so, and the continued warmth of his wife's body pressed up against his own, but he eventually managed to fall back to sleep. He was sure Inez Kingston didn't.
He had a car back in those days, Jaywalker did. Or sort of. It was an ancient Volkswagen Beetle, its exterior equal parts blue paint and orange rust. The running boards had fallen off, the heater was history, the wipers stuck when they weren't busy scratching the windshield, and the horn worked if you were lucky enough to happen upon the "sweet spot" of the rim.
But it was transportation, something that came in handy when you'd been forced to flee the city's rich rents and poor public schools, and move to the suburbs. If Ber-genfield, New Jersey, qualified as a suburb. What it was, was a blue-collar, working-class community, where Jaywalker could mow his own lawn, rake his own leaves and shovel his own driveway without being mistaken for a hired man. Even if his wife hoped for better things, it suited him just fine.
Aiming the VW toward the Bronx that following morning, Jaywalker tried to remember what he could about Darren Kingston. He'd been one of Jaywalker's first clients after he'd left Legal Aid. His mother, Inez, worked at what today is referred to as the Department of Social Services. Back then it was the Welfare Department. Progress, no doubt. One of Inez's coworkers there was Jaywalker's sister-in-law. It had been at her suggestion that Inez had called Jaywalker when Darren had gotten into trouble. Along with two other young black men, he'd been arrested for robbing an elderly white man. Although the case had sounded bad at first, it turned out to be pretty harmless. One of the other defendants had done some work for the man and had had a dispute over how much money was owed him. When he went to collect, he brought his friends along. One of his friends being a knife. Seeing as Darren himself hadn't possessed it, had had very little involvement in the matter and had never been in any sort of trouble before, the charges against him had eventually been dropped.
This time, Jaywalker thought as he maneuvered around the potholes, trash and broken glass of the South Bronx, he was pretty sure things weren't going to be quite so easy.
Arraignments took place in a dark gray building at 161st Street and Washington Avenue, half a block from the abandoned elevated tracks above Third Avenue. It was one of two buildings that together made up the Bronx Criminal Court. Rumor had it that both had been condemned as unsafe since the early 1950s, and in fact they would finally be abandoned a few years later, replaced by a large modern structure closer to the Grand Concourse.
At the time, however, the decaying building was, for most people, their first encounter with what passed for Bronx justice. The floors were stained and uneven. Where they were supposed to be tiled, whole sections of tiles had been removed. Where they were wood, they were splintered and suffering from years of dry rot. The walls were cracked and paint-chipped, and covered with graffiti that was anti-police, anti-white, anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-gay, anti-just about everything. The two elevators took turns being out of order. Rather than guessing, Jaywalker headed for the stairwell. Just before entering, he took a deep gulp of air, then breathed through his mouth as he climbed, in order to block out as much of the stench of old urine as he could.
Reaching the second floor, he recognized Inez Kingston and her husband, Marlin. She was a short, heavyset woman whose pleasant smile and soft West Indian accent masked an inner nervousness and chronic high blood pressure. He was an equally short, wiry man with a face that wore the two-day-old stubble of a nightshift worker for the Transit Department. As accustomed as Inez was to hiding her feelings, Marlin was not, and his face that Wednesday morning was tense and unsmiling.
Jaywalker headed over and greeted them. Inez introduced him to her younger brother, who'd come along for support. Jaywalker asked if anything was new since the night before.
"No," said Inez, "but the detective's here. Rendell. He won't tell us anything, but he did say he'd talk to you. I told him we had a lawyer coming. Was that all right?" "Yes," said Jaywalker. "Where is he now?" "In there." She pointed to a door. A sign on it warned passersby to keep out.
Complaint Room Police Officers Only
"Point him out to me when he comes out, okay?"
It didn't take long. Robert Rendell, all six foot three of him, opened the door and strode out. He was young for a detective, and handsome, with a shock of graying black hair that fell across his forehead. Jaywalker immediately sized him up as a formidable witness. Then he moved to intercept him before he made it to the courtroom.
"My name is Jaywalker. I'm going to be representing Darren Kingston. The family said you might be able to give me a little information. They seem pretty confused."
"What can I tell you, counselor? I've got five CWs" complaining witnesses, Jaywalker translated mentally "and everything they say points to your man."
"Lineups?" Jaywalker probed.
"You're going to have to talk to the D.A."
"Jesus," said Jaywalker, a seriously lapsed Jew. "I've known this kid for years." It was an exaggeration, but a modest one. "Shocks the shit outta you. When did these rapes take place?"
"August, mostly. But I've been looking for him for a couple of weeks."
"No, nothing really," said the detective. "Says he's innocent. Tell you what, counselor. I got one of the girls coming down this morning. She IDs him, or she doesn't." He shrugged. "If he's not the guy, I don't want him." With that, he excused himself and walked into the courtroom.
Jaywalker looked at his watch. It was a few minutes after ten. Court was supposed to begin at 9:30 a.m., but the judge hadn't taken the bench yet. Nothing new there.
Jaywalker took a minute to consider what he had. Rendell hadn't given him much, but at least he'd added a few more facts to piece into the picture. There were five victims. At least one of themthe one who was on her way to courtapparently hadn't seen Darren since the incident. Assuming it was Darren. Most of the rapes had occurred in August, a month ago. That could be good. But Rendell's comment that he'd been looking for Darren sounded bad. It meant that Darren had been positively identified as the result of some sort of investigation. It also suggested that Darren might have been hiding out, trying to avoid arrest. Consciousness of guilt? That there were no admissions was good. If he was guilty, at least Darren had been smart enough to keep his mouth shut.
Already Jaywalker could sense things shaping up as a classic identification case. Five women had been raped. Was Darren Kingston the man who had raped them?