Read an Excerpt
A Ben Kincaid Novel of Suspense (Book Three)
By William Bernhardt
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 William Bernhardt
All rights reserved.
Ben gnawed on the end of his pencil. Things were worse already.
The lawyer representing the defendant, Topeka Natural Gas Limited, had just completed the direct examination of his expert witness, and the expert was magnificent. Authoritative yet relaxed, confident yet not overbearing—everything an expert witness should be. Ben hadn't a chance of convincing the jury that the proposed gas processing plant would cause permanent damage to endangered animal habitats unless he came up with some way to take this expert apart on cross. And so far he hadn't come up with any.
Ben had prepared cross-examination questions in advance, but the expert had anticipated his every feint and effectively cut Ben off at the pass. To compound matters, Christina still hadn't shown up. It was hardly unusual for her to be late, but this morning he needed her more than ever, not just for her services as a legal assistant but for her intuitive leaps of insight and perception. To make matters even worse, his investigator, Loving, hadn't put in an appearance yet either. Times like these made Ben wish he could afford to hire an associate, but as a solo practitioner barely scraping by, such luxuries were out of his reach. Once again, Ben was on his own.
He grabbed his briefcase and popped it open. A black plastic object flew out and dropped onto the floor.
Judge Hart peered down from the bench. "Mr. Kincaid, what is that on the floor?"
"That ... appears to be a plastic spider, your honor." He was going to have to stop letting his cat Giselle play in his briefcase.
"And I assume that is going to play some pivotal role in your cross-examination of this witness?"
"Well ... you never know, your honor. On cross, one has to be prepared for anything."
"I see." Ben was glad he was in Hart's court this morning; at least she had a sense of humor. "Getting to the point of the matter, Mr. Kincaid, have you any cross-examination for this witness?"
"Uh ... yes. Definitely. Pages and pages."
The judge seemed surprised. Apparently she found the expert's testimony as flawless as Ben did. "Do you anticipate that your cross-examination will be time-consuming?"
"That's entirely possible, your honor. Could we please have a short recess?" So I can dream up some more questions? Please?
"I suppose. Ten minutes, counsel."
Thank goodness. A reprieve.
The courtroom attendants stood and stretched as Judge Hart retreated to her chambers. Ben scanned the courtroom high and low—and it was low that he spotted a familiar pair of yellow leotards. Help was on its way.
"Christina! Glad you could make it."
"I hurried as fast as I could." She seemed out of breath, as did Ben's secretary, Jones, who was standing beside her. "Have you crossed the expert yet?"
"No, but I'll start in about ten minutes. What have you been doing?"
"Working, of course." She was carrying a huge posterboard. Even folded down the middle, the board was shoulder-high on Christina, who was just over five feet tall. "Am I not your faithful aide-de-camp?"
"Spare me your French." Ben focused on the poster. "What's that?"
"Your Exhibit A. Let's go somewhere private and talk entre nous."
Ben followed her to a relatively unpopulated corner of the courtroom. She was wearing a brown leather skirt, not quite knee length, a noisy chain belt, and a silky blouse. And she wondered why he didn't let her sit at counsel table!
"Did Loving discover anything?"
"No," Jones answered. His eyebrows bobbed up and down. "That's why I got into the action."
"Jones, when are you going to get it through your head that you're a secretary? You're not supposed to be skulking around dark alleys. That's Loving's job. You're supposed to answer the phone."
"Aw, Boss, no one ever calls except your creditors. That guy you stiffed for the photocopier is driving me crazy."
"I told him I'd pay as soon as some money came in."
"Yeah, but that was four months ago. Anyway, Loving was upset because you wouldn't let him talk to the expert witness directly."
"The Rules of Professional Conduct don't permit me or my staff to contact opposing witnesses."
"Loving felt stymied."
"There are methods of gaining information other than beating the witness into submission!"
"Perhaps," Jones said, "but that's sort of Loving's specialty...."
"Okay," Ben said, "I know I'll regret asking, but what did you do?"
"I followed Mr. Expert Witness when he left Anglin's offices last night." Anglin was the attorney representing Topeka Natural Gas Limited.
"And where did he go?"
"To a classroom at Tulsa Junior College."
"Pick up the pace, Jones. I don't have a lot of time. Did you find out what the class was?"
"I didn't have to. The classroom was being used as a public meeting room. I knew because I've been there before with Christina."
This did not bode well. "And what undoubtedly auspicious group meets there?"
"The Tulsa Past Lives Society."
Ben slapped his forehead. Surely this was a mistake.
"See, Ben," Christina interjected. "I've been saying for months that you should attend some of those meetings with me. But you always refuse."
"I can't get too excited about spending the evening with a bunch of people who think Shirley MacLaine is on the inside track." He glanced at his watch. "I suppose you checked this out?"
"Of course." She tossed her long strawberry blond hair behind her shoulders. "Where do you think I've been? I wasn't at the meeting last night, but my girlfriend Sally Zacharias was, and she says that the expert was just the cutest man, very polite and a vegetarian—"
"Cut to the chase, Christina." He saw the judge's clerk reentering the courtroom. "What did you find out?"
She smiled. "Perhaps it would be simpler if you just looked at the exhibit."
Ben laid his hand on the oversize posterboard. He had a definite suspicion he was going to regret this.
"Mr. Kincaid, are you ready to proceed with your cross-examination?" Judge Hart asked when she returned to the courtroom.
"Yes, your honor."
"And you still believe it may be lengthy?"
"It's ... possible I'll finish sooner than I anticipated, your honor."
The judge's eyes brightened. "Now that's encouraging. Remember, Mr. Kincaid, brevity is the soul of wit."
"I will, your honor." He approached the witness stand. "Dr. Lindstrom, you are a Ph.D., are you not?"
In fact, Dr. Lindstrom was the stereotypical picture of a Ph.D.—tortoiseshell eyeglasses, tweed jacket, salt-and-pepper beard. "I am. I received my degree in Environmental Sciences, with an emphasis on toxic gases."
"And you belong to a myriad of professional organizations."
He seemed pleased at the opportunity to flaunt his awesome credentials. "Yes, and I'm also a delegate to the National Environmental Congress for North America."
"I'm sure we don't want to bore the jury with a litany of your countless awards and commendations."
He sniffed. "Well ... if you say so."
"You also hold an endowed chair at the University of Oklahoma, correct?"
"I have been fortunate to receive the John Taylor Ross chair, yes."
"But the vast majority of your current income does not come from the University, does it?"
He paused. "I'm ... not sure what—"
"You make far more money these days as a professional expert witness, right?"
"I have been called on occasion to offer my expertise—"
"And always by right-wing groups or businesses that want to destroy something natural so they can erect something artificial."
Anglin rose to his feet. "Objection."
Judge Hart nodded. "Sustained."
"Your honor," Ben said, "I'm endeavoring to make the point that this witness has been paid to testify twelve times in the past three years, and in each instance he has testified that the project in question would not harm the endangered species whose habitat was being destroyed."
"Then perhaps you should establish that through cross-examination testimony," Judge Hart said, "rather than by making long-winded speeches."
"That's all right, your honor. I'm ready to move on." Especially since the point was already made. If Ben had learned anything in the time he'd been practicing, it was when to leave well enough alone. "Dr. Lindstrom, I'd like you to look at an exhibit."
Dr. Lindstrom reached for the stack of previously admitted documents.
"No, no, Doctor," Ben said. "I want you to examine a new exhibit." He lifted the posterboard off plaintiff's table, unfolded it, and propped it up against the courtroom easel. The poster was an enlargement of a full-length photo of an attractive platinum blonde in a white party dress.
Anglin was back on his feet the instant the blow-up was displayed. "Objection, your honor. What relevance can this possibly have to the question of whether the proposed gas treatment plant will cause environmental harm?"
The judge fingered her glasses. "I admit I'm a bit mystified myself...."
"I will make me relevance clear very quickly," Ben assured her.
Anglin continued to protest. "Your honor, I have no idea what he's planning to do!"
"Well, life is an adventure," the judge said. "Let's just kick back and see what happens."
Obviously unhappy, Anglin returned to his seat.
Ben confronted the expert witness. "Dr. Lindstrom, do you know who the woman in this photograph is?"
"Uh ... I believe that would be Jean Harlow."
"I believe you're right. And you're familiar with Miss Harlow, correct?"
He tugged at his collar. "I ... am familiar with her, yes ..."
"And can you tell the jury why you're familiar with Miss Harlow?"
"I ... uh ... was Jean Harlow."
"I'm sorry." Ben pivoted toward the jury box. "I'm not certain the jury got that. What did you say?"
"I said I was Jean Harlow. In a past life."
In the corner of his eye, Ben saw Anglin slump down into his chair.
"A past life. You know, Doctor, some members of the jury may not be familiar with that concept. Could you please explain exactly how that works?"
The doctor turned to face the jury. "In 1937," he explained, "Jean Harlow developed a painful inflamed gallbladder, probably exacerbated by kidney damage she sustained during a beating her ex-husband gave her years before on their honeymoon. Unfortunately, my—er, her mother was a devout Christian Scientist who refused to permit Jean to seek medical treatment. Jean lay helplessly in her bedroom, in great pain, becoming sicker by the hour. Eventually, her fiancé, William Powell, broke into the house with some friends, scooped Jean into his arms, and carried her to the hospital." He sighed. "William Powell. What a man he was."
After a long moment, Lindstrom broke out of his reverie. "Bill did the best he could, but he was too late. Jean Harlow died."
Ben nodded. "And then what happened?"
Lindstrom leaned forward in the witness box. "You see, it wasn't her time to die. She was only twenty-six. She was just getting started. She was engaged to be married. She hadn't had a chance to live, to love—" He made a choking noise, then covered his face with his hand. "She was so young."
Lindstrom didn't continue until he had fully recovered. "So she was reincarnated. As me."
Ben allowed a respectful silence. "And how do you know all this?"
"I recalled it under hypnosis."
"Do you have yourself hypnotized often?"
His left eye twitched. "From time to time."
"Before you testify in court?"
"It ... does help calm my nerves ... sharpen my memory—"
"Are you testifying today under hypnotic influence?"
"I'm fully awake and able to—"
"Please answer my question."
He pursed his lips. "Yes."
Bingo. "Now Doctor, getting back to your story—as the jury can see from the poster, you were quite a sexy gal."
"It was Hollywood. They insisted on photographing me in that objectified manner."
"No doubt. I understand you were often seen in the company of Clark Gable."
"Ugh. Horrid man. Had false teeth—was a dreadful kisser."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Let me ask you about your relationship with William Powell—"
"Your honor, I object!" It was Anglin again, giving it the old college try. "Mr. Kincaid is turning this trial into a circus!"
"Perhaps so," Judge Hart said. "But he's not the one who put the clown in the center ring. Proceed."
Ben eyed the jury. They were eating it up—barely suppressing their laughter. It wouldn't matter now if this guy had a degree from God. His credibility was shot.
"Dr. Lindstrom," he continued. "Isn't it true that Jean Harlow loved little furry animals?"
After the jury retired, Ben and Christina began packing their files and exhibits. "Well, congratulations, Ace," Christina said. "Your performance was sans pareil. You saved a lot of endangered prairie dogs today."
"The jury is still deliberating," Ben replied. "Let's not jinx it."
"Aw, the gas company hasn't got a chance. You were sensational on cross."
"Well, thanks for the show-and-tell. I would've been up a creek without you."
She batted her eyelashes. "My pleasure. I always enjoy pulling your fat out of the fire."
"How sweet." Ben closed his briefcase, leaving the plastic spider on top. He grabbed a document box and headed for the door.
"Excuse me. Mr. Kincaid?"
Ben saw an unfamiliar man in a gray business suit standing in the doorway.
"Look," Ben said, "if it's about the photocopier, I promise I'll pay you as soon as I can—"
"Oh, no. You misunderstand." He waved his hands rapidly in the air. "I'm not here to hit you up for money. On the contrary, Mr. Kincaid, I'm here to make you a wealthy man."CHAPTER 2
"You're here to do what?"
The man smiled pleasantly. "I want to set you up for life, Mr. Kincaid. If you'll let me."
"I'm afraid I don't understand." The man gestured toward the front row of the courtroom. "Let's sit, shall we? You can come too, Ms. McCall. This offer involves you as well."
Ben and Christina exchanged puzzled looks. "Offer?"
"Perhaps I should start at the beginning." He reached into his suit pocket and withdrew a business card. "My name is Howard Hamel." A confident demeanor accented Hamel's clean-cut, well-scrubbed features. "I'm a member of the legal staff for the Apollo Consortium, an amalgamation of interrelated corporate entities. Have you heard of us?"
Ben nodded. Of course he had. The Apollo parent corporation was probably the largest business entity in Tulsa, possibly in the entire state of Oklahoma. It had started as a small oil exploration company, but during the boom years of the Seventies expanded into natural gas, manufacturing, transportation, and even entertainment. The diversification helped them survive the bust years of the Eighties—survive them quite well, in fact. Apollo was a Fortune 500 corporation—one of the few in the Southwest.
"Then you probably also know," Hamel continued, "that we have an in-house legal staff of over fifty lawyers. Heck, if we were a law firm, we'd be one of the largest in the state. And we'd like you to join our team. We can discuss the details at your leisure—salary, bonuses, pension plan, benefits—but I think you'll be pleased with the offer. If you don't mind my saying so, it'll be a step up for you."
And how. But then, Ben thought, almost anything would. "What kind of legal work would this involve?"
"That's one of the advantages to working at a place like Apollo," Hamel answered. "We have so much going on, you can do almost anything you want. Your background is in litigation, and rightfully so, I might add. You were magnificent in the courtroom today."
"Well ... thanks ..."
"I see you joining the litigation team and taking charge of some of the multimillion dollar cases that pass through our office on a daily basis. We like to keep these cases in-house whenever possible; outside counsel fees are exorbitant, as I'm sure you know. There's a new product liability case recently filed against Apollo that you would be perfect for."
The words rang in Ben's ears. In-house counsel. Products liability. Multimillion dollar cases. That would certainly be a step up from the Three Ds: divorce, deeds, and dog bites. "It's an interesting offer. How long will the position be open?"
"Perhaps I haven't made myself clear. There is no position. This isn't some slot we need to fill with a body. We want you—Ben Kincaid—on our legal staff."
Ben was flabbergasted. "But—why me?"
"We believe you have a real future in the law, and we want it to be with us."
Ben shook his head, trying to verify that he was hearing clearly. Kudos like this didn't come that often to the solo practitioner. "I'm not sure I'd be happy working for the same client day in, day out."
Excerpted from Deadly Justice by William Bernhardt. Copyright © 1993 William Bernhardt. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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