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Jeff Kendall lounged at the defense table, one arm slung casually behind him in an attitude that made his hard wooden chair look like an overstuffed Barcalounger. I can barely spell haute couture, but I'd swear on a stack of gambling chits that his dandified three-button suit was Italian hand-tailored. All that aside, though, it was those ballet-sized feet of his, peeking out from under the table in argyle socks and tasseled loafers, that gave me a familiar malodorous taste in the back of my throat like I'd just slurped down a bad raw oyster. What a freaking weasel Jeff was. A rodent when we were on the same side—prosecutors at the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office—he had devolved into a slug when he left the AG's to ooze into the pond scum of criminal defense.
Jeff's courtroom antics, alas, had neither evolved nor degenerated. Today he was defending the guy I was prosecuting, a creepy dude accused of shotgunning his wife to death in their posh Dean Estates mansion. Jeff was still conjuring up the same tired tricks to make up for his lousy legal skills—twirling his pen in the air like an autistic child or an idiot savant, trying to distract the jury from my impending closing argument. No need to overwork yourself, Jeff old boy, I thought. My case was built on a house of cards and I had nothing magical up my sleeve.
I unfolded to my gangly six-foot height and, clicking across the room toward Jeff in metal-tipped stilettos, I watched his raccoon eyes ratchet open in quaking anticipation of an early death. He stared up at me and fumbled his cheap courtroom Bic to the floor. I waited. My timing was always top-notch. When the pen clattered to rest between my black-stockinged legs, I turned to the jury and pointed, my arm completely outstretched and held high, like I was denouncing a Nazi war criminal.
"In a few minutes this man will stop twirling his baton and stand before you. He will try to convince you that the defendant, Micah Cohen, is a tortured and misunderstood soul whom the state is trying to crucify—Jesus Christ of Nazareth—"
Jeff bolted to his feet. "Objection, your honor!"
Judge Ragusta raised both hands in fatigued surrender. He was used to my courtroom drama and the curtain had just opened on my finale.
"She's only just begun, Mr. Kendall. Let's allow her a little more . . . rope."
The jury was confused. They looked worried, nonplussed. Had there been evidence involving rope at trial? A lasso perhaps? A noose? A garrote?
"What the judge is suggesting," I explained, "is that I might eventually get myself in trouble by saying something I'm not supposed to say, like telling you things the defendant doesn't want you to know."
The judge rolled his eyes. Jeff clamped his shut. And I continued without objection.
"But I will gladly get myself in trouble with this court if it means that Micah Cohen will be punished for murdering his wife. I'll gladly sacrifice myself on a cross right next to his gallows."
"As if," Jeff whined in this incredibly teensy voice.
"Mr. Kendall," the judge warned.
I nodded a sweet smile at the judge. "Thank you, your honor," I said, sighing deeply. "I do tend to become overemotional when a defenseless woman's brains are splattered all over her bedroom ceiling and have to be scraped off by a local cleaning crew."
The jury sucked air into its collective lungs. A united choral gasp. I really wanted to bow, but I knew my limits. They were gobbling up my soap-opera slop. Not an easy performance, might I add. Juries, by nature, are a resentful group—captivity is a bitch. My job was to make these twelve people feel like righteous avenging angels of a dead woman's soul—to make them exult as they were herded into a stifling hot courtroom every day to listen to grisly blood-spatter evidence, when instead they could have been enjoying a breakfast bagel melt at their local Burger King. Christ, even I was bitchy at eight-thirty in the morning, and I was paid to be there.
I clicked my ruby red spikes at the heels and bellied up to the jury box. "My friends, that man—who has resumed his baton-twirling act to distract your attention—will come before you momentarily and tell you that the State of Rhode Island has no direct evidence against the defendant. He will tell you the evidence we have is circumstantial. He will explain that circumstantial evidence means that no one actually saw Micah Cohen put the gun to his wife's sleeping head—"
"Objection!" Jeff was back on his feet again. "There is no evidence that Mrs. Cohen was asleep before she died."
"Well, a gun blast to the head would certainly wake me out of a sound sleep," I remarked to the jury.
"Quiet!" yelled the judge.
The jury's attention shot to the judge, but I kept mine on them.
"Objection overruled. Mr. Kendall, your own expert testified under cross that she could have been asleep when the gun was fired. Miss Lynch, continue, and let's try to get through this before the end of the lunar year."
The jury's eyes returned to me. They cracked a few cautious smiles at the judge's humor. And even though the last damn thing I felt like doing was smiling, I smiled back at them and continued my Oscar-worthy performance.
"The baton-twirling defense attorney will also tell you that Micah Cohen adored his wife. That he doted on her. Depended on her like a child does its mother." I cupped my hands over the railing dividing us and leaned into the jury box. I was entering their space. Their heads drew closer to me, as if we were going to share some secrets. "And let's assume that it's true. That Micah Cohen's feelings for his wife were those of a child for its mother." I straightened, raised my head high, and let my voice sing across the room. "Because they certainly weren't the feelings of a man for a woman in the traditional sense of a marital relationship." I paused, and lowered my head again. "Micah Cohen is gay. Charlene Cohen discovered her husband's homosexuality three weeks before she died. Three weeks before she died, Charlene Cohen retained an attorney to end her marriage. And three weeks later, she was shot dead."
I waited for that fact to sink in, because it was the rusted linchpin for my whole rotten circumstantial case.
"My heart goes out to Micah Cohen," I said with Meryl Streep sincerity. "Our society remains so tragically reluctant to accept homosexuality as natural that men like Mr. Cohen feel they have to bind themselves in disingenuous relationships with women in order to cloak their true natures. Micah Cohen wanted to continue the charade of a happy marriage." I shook a few spiky platinum strands of hair into one eye. I was trying for the seductive look, but I may have looked the madwoman, which wouldn't have been too bad either—maybe I could scare them into a guilty verdict. "But Charlene Cohen said no to her husband. 'No, I will not continue this charade,' she said."
I breathed deeply again, to coax the jury into following suit. They were by now hanging on my every word, and the poor souls looked faint.
"Charlene Cohen said no to her husband. She said, 'I don't want a pretend life. I won't live with the lies anymore.' She told her sister that she wanted another chance at love."
On silenced heels, I tiptoed to the water pitcher at my table. The cheap lunchroom glass looked smudged and full of prints. And was that red glop at the edge lipstick? I poured, raised the filthy glass to my lips. A few feet away Jeff Kendall had called his Bic back into action and was sketching figures of evil-looking women with short bristling hair and protruding horns.
Setting the disgusting glass down on the table, I turned back to the jury as their collective stare shot from my legs to my face. " 'I want another chance at love,' " I said in the ethereal voice of a dead woman. "You heard Charlene's sister testify that Charlene said this. That Charlene told her sister she finally realized why her marriage had been so frigid. 'I want another chance at love.' I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, are those the words of a woman who wants to die?"
The jurors' eyes were fixed on me like a classroom of grade-schoolers worried that the teacher would call on them. "No," I answered for them. "Charlene Cohen didn't want to die. Ask yourselves this: Why did Charlene Cohen hire a lawyer if she intended to kill herself? Because Charlene Cohen wanted freedom, not death. But three weeks after she said no to her marriage, Micah Cohen bought a gun and shot her. Three weeks after she said, 'This sham of a marriage is over,' she was dead."
I let those words linger, hoping I wasn't overdoing it. The twelve men and women in the box might have been enjoying the show, but they weren't as dumb as I liked them to be. One repetition too many and I'd offend them.
At my silence, their dozen heads pivoted from me to Jeff, waiting for him to stand, object, or show any sign of life, but he merely sat there doodling, while next to him, the defendant had buried his face in his hands. If Micah Cohen had been my client, I would have kicked him under the table, or passed him a note: Hold your head up, you idiot, and look shocked. You look guilty as hell.
I returned to my chair, dragged it noisily back against the stone floor, and sat.
Judge Ragusta looked up at the clock on the back wall.
Jeff Kendall glanced at his watch.
"Mr. Kendall," the judge said, "I'll let you go now if you want, or you can wait until we reconvene. It's up to you."
Jeff decided to wait until Monday. Smart choice, of course. Over the weekend the force of my closing argument, weak as it was, would become but a dim memory in the jury's mind.
The judge dismissed the jurors, and when the last one had disappeared, Jeff ambled over to me as I packed up my briefcase. "What's all this saccharine hypocrisy you're spewing these days?" he asked. "Religious allusions? Christ on a cross? Shannon, you're a bloodless misanthrope. Have you no pride?"
I leaned in close to Jeff's white face. "Where's your gold Montblanc? You trying to appeal to the dirty unwashed by hiding your silver spoon behind a Bic ballpoint?"
I strode out of the courtroom, Jeff following at my heels to tell me he might not even give a closing argument. "You have no case, why should I even waste the court's time?"
I forwent the elevator and bolted down the stairs two at a time trying to lose him, but the little nit stuck to me like flypaper. One would think, given our hostile history at the AG's office, he'd want to escape from me as soon as the judge gaveled his final hammer, but he kept buzzing in my ear. "You're a shark who'd prosecute a shih tzu puppy for pooping in the street if Vince Piganno told you to. This case is going to ruin your sterling trial record."
"I put people in jail, Jeff, not puppies. People who rape, murder, and perpetrate various and sundry acts of mayhem on innocent victims."
"You know," he said, "I've often wondered if someone like you could even be a victim. I mean, if you were raped, wouldn't it qualify as just another one of your dates—your payback for saying 'Fuck you' to the wrong guy in the wrong alley too late at night after too many vodka martinis?"
"Scotch neat," I corrected him. Out through the rotunda and down the steep courthouse steps, he followed me. "And unfortunately, raped or not, I'd be duty-bound to deliver my bad date to the local cops."
"While you'd no doubt be fantasizing about a time- and cost-efficient bullet through his skull. You still carry that Colt Defender in your purse?"
I stopped a few feet from my car parked on the street. "I do, as a matter of fact. So why are you still stalking me?"
My three-inch heels gave me the height advantage. He looked up into my eyes and smiled. "My car's right up there." He glanced toward a shiny, gunmetal gray BMW farther down the street, and then back at me. "Are those dark roots I see? Don't let your hair grow. The sharp spiky look is more in character with your icy and unforgiving nature. Falling in your eyes like that? It gives guys the wrong idea . . . like you're approachable or something."
"As long as you keep the wrong idea zipped in your pants."
"No problem there. I like the insecure type. How is Marianna, by the way?"
His wink looked more like a twitch, and he walked off toward his car still cocksure of himself, not caring if he won or lost or whether the prize was a woman or a trial. For Jeff Kendall and his spoiled clan, the daily game of life began with a coming-out party at birth, cruised through the sweet-teen years, and sailed on a breeze to vested middle age. And Jeff had nothing resembling a conscience to bump him from that first-class nonstop flight to his gold-watch-retirement gala at the family estate.
I was still fumbling with my rusty car lock when Jeff zoomed up with his head out the window. "Speaking of Marianna, how's the rest of your crew?" he asked.
"I'm meeting them now. I'd invite you, but Marianna still has her laser sight pointed at where your dick would be if you had one."
Jeff cackled and waved an arm in the air, driving off as I sighed in relief. I boarded my giant SUV and headed to Fox Point and then into the parking lot at Al Forno, where I assumed my closest friends and coworkers, attorneys Marianna Melone and Laurie Stein and paralegal Beth Earles, were already upstairs at the bar decanting my scotch.
Straddling two steps at a time, I sprinted up to the second-floor bar and shimmied onto the stool they'd held for me. "I friggin' hate August. One hell of a scorcher, huh?"
Laurie's head swayed toward me. "Hey," she said, then looked down at my glass. "Glenlivet, right?"
I raised my drink in affirmation.
Marianna stuck her hand in the air in a tired hello, and Beth leaned over her and Laurie. "We're waiting for a table, Shannon. But I know you like the bar, so we can stay here if you want."