Authors: Lisa Scottoline
Tags: #Mystery & Detective - General, #Fiction - Psychological Suspense, #Rosato and Associates (Imaginary organization), #Mystery & Detective, #Philadelphia (Pa.), #Women Lawyers, #Rosato & Associates (Imaginary organization), #Legal, #General, #False Personation, #Mystery Fiction, #Legal stories, #Fiction, #Identity (Psychology)
Bennie Rosato had waited for more than a hundred . .
Friday morning, Bennie squirmed in her desk chair . .
Bennie had taken her lunchtime run to Dunkin’ Donuts . .
Bennie combed the dhurrie rug and crawled under her desk
It took only a weekend to transform the firm’s large . .
Monday morning, Bennie stepped off the elevator . .
Near the wall in the reception area, two workmen . .
Bennie had visited Lawyer Kingdoms in her day . .
Only a telltale latex smell signified that the interrogation . .
Grun & Chase was one of the largest law firms . .
Bennie walked home from Grun & Chase . .
Bennie got to the tack shop fifteen minutes before nine . .
The next morning found Bennie in her office at seven . .
Bennie felt the familiar whoosh of chilly air . .
Bennie left her very satisfied client at the courthouse . .
Look ahead, eight! Look ahead!” rowers screamed . .
Bennie did a double take when David came . .
Boxy TV news vans littered
It took Bennie a minute to absorb the shock.
Of course I know what time it is,” Bennie answered . .
No comment, no comment, no comment!”
” said the voice on the other end of the phone line . .
Detective Needleman!” Bennie said in surprise . .
Sir, may I speak to you a minute?” Bennie gestured . .
Mort Abrams,” the young man said . .
Situated at the southwestern corner of Rittenhouse . .
came instantly to Bennie’s mind . .
Bennie pushed through the police only sign . .
Bennie had thrown herself on her couch . .
Bennie felt refreshed and energized when she got off . .
Bennie, Mort Abrams here.”
But there was a commotion outside her office . .
Bennie, help!” Marshall screamed. She was on the floor . .
I’m sorry, but you have to go,” one of the nurses told . .
Alice!” Bennie said, startled.
Georges St. Amien stood in front of the tarp . .
But it wasn’t dark, in the dream. In the dream . .
When Bennie opened her eyes, everything around her . .
Yeah!” “Hurray!” “Welcome back, Bennie!”
Bennie opened her office door into the aroma of brewing . .
Bennie Rosato had waited for more than a hundred jury verdicts in her career, but the waiting never got easier. The courtroom was empty, the air still. Bennie could hear the clock ticking on the paneled wall, but it could have been her sense of drama. She was sitting next to her client, Ray Finalil, who was gnawing his cuticles. If they lost this trial, Ray’s company would have to pay three million dollars in damages. Three million bucks buys a lot of cuticles.
Bennie set aside her own case of nerves to cheer him up. “Yo, Ray. How do you stop a lawyer from drowning?”
“Take your foot off his head.”
Ray didn’t smile. His gaze remained fixed on the vacant jury box, with its black leather chairs swiveled in different directions. The jury had been charged on the law this morning and they’d been out deliberating all day. That meant Ray and Bennie were entering their sixth hour of small talk. To Bennie, that was as good as married.
“Okay, no more jokes,” she said. “Tell me about your son’s baseball game. I’ll pretend I don’t know about the home run or the catch at third base.”
Ray’s chin dropped to his hand. His brown eyes were bloodshot from three weeks of sleepless nights and his cheeks hollow from the ten pounds he’d shed during the trial, even though he was completely innocent. Being a defendant was no-win; if you lost, you paid the plaintiff, and if you won, you paid your lawyer. This was known as the American Rule. Only Americans tolerate law without justice.
“Look, Ray, we don’t have to stay here. I have my cell phone, and the deputy clerk has my number. How about we take a field trip? We can go see the Liberty Bell. It’s only a block away.”
“This land is your land, Ray. This land is my land.”
“Come on, it’ll do you good to go out and walk around.” Bennie rose, stretched, and took a personal inventory. She thought she was good-looking for a lawyer, even though she stood six feet tall and her proportions were positively Amazonian. Her khaki suit was still pressed and her white Gap shirt fairly clean. Her long, disobedient blond hair had been piled into a twist with a tortoiseshell barrette, but no makeup maximized the blue of her eyes or minimized the crow’s-feet at their corners. An old boyfriend had told her that her mouth was generous, but she suspected it was a sneaky way of saying she had a big mouth. At the moment, it was shaped into a sympathetic frown. “You don’t wanna take a walk?”
“When do you think they’ll come back?” Ray didn’t have to explain who “they” were. The jury.
“End of today.” Bennie sat back down. At least the stretch had shaken off some of her stress. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d exercised. This trial had consumed every available minute for the past two months, but her law firm needed the dough. The slump in the economy had hit lawyers, too, and people had stopped suing each other. Could world peace be far behind?
“I can’t take another day of this. You sure they’ll come back today?”
“Positive. This is a simple fraud case, in federal court only through the miracle of diversity jurisdiction. And Thursday is a good day for juries to go out. They get it over with if they come back today, then they go home and make it a three-day weekend. They won’t go to work on a Friday after jury duty.”
“How do you know?”
“Trial wisdom. The elders pass it down in a secret ceremony. We call it the bar exam to fool gringos like you.”
“But what are they
in there for so long?” Ray rubbed his forehead with leftover fingernails. He looked older than his fifty-one years, and oddly, he’d become more nervous as the trial wore on, not less. Ray wasn’t a lover
a fighter. He was an accountant.
“A day is nothing. We just had a fifteen-day trial with one hundred twenty-six exhibits and twenty-eight witnesses. You want them back sooner?” Bennie pointed to the empty jury box. “Keep watching those chairs. It works every time.”
Suddenly, the paneled door next to the dais opened and the deputy clerk entered. He was tall and fit, and his polyester blazer made an officially swishy sound when he walked. When Bennie realized he was heading for her, she rose. “They back?” she asked, her heart beginning to thump, but the deputy clerk shook his head.
“They got a question. They sent a note. Court’s in session in five minutes. Plaintiff still in the attorney’s conference room?”
“Yes,” Bennie answered, and as soon as the deputy clerk took off down the aisle, Ray jumped up and clutched her sleeve.
“What does he mean, a question? The jury has a question? What question?”
“Relax. Sit down.” Bennie unpeeled Ray’s fingers and eased him down into his chair. “The judge is coming out to read us the question. Then we—”
“A question? How typical is that? I don’t understand. What does he mean, a question?”
“It happens from time to time. The jury sends the judge a question about the evidence or the law. It’s nothing to be—”
“I mean, what do they have to know?” Ray raked his free hand through his thinning hair. At the beginning of this trial he had looked like a Chia Pet. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. “Who said they could ask questions? Why do they get to ask questions?”
“Because this is America. Now stay cool. Curtain’s up.” Bennie gestured behind him, where the courtroom had come abruptly to life. The court reporter returned, cracking his knuckles before he took his seat straddling the stenography machine. The deputy clerk and a young female law clerk entered through the paneled door and bustled to their posts at the side and the front of the courtroom. The plaintiff and his lawyer hustled up the aisle and sat down at their counsel table, and the lawyer nodded, acknowledging Bennie.
Bennie nodded back, but that was as friendly as she ever got with opposing counsel, if you didn’t count giving them the finger behind her legal pad. She wasn’t trying to win friends; she was trying to win cases. Her loyalty remained with her client, even one as panicky as Ray. Especially one as panicky as Ray, who leaned over and started whispering so close she could smell lunch on his breath. Ray Finalil was the only person in the world still eating liverwurst and onions.
“What do you think they’ll ask? What could they not understand?”
“Quiet. Stand up.” Bennie rose as Judge William Delburton, a gray-haired Carter appointee who’d been tough if evenhanded during the trial, swept into the courtroom. He sat in his high-backed leather chair on the paneled dais, underneath the thick golden seal of the United States Courts. In his hands rested a single piece of folded paper, which he studied as the deputy clerk said his lines.
“All rise!” cried the deputy clerk, needlessly. The parties were already on their feet and the gallery was empty. “Court is now in session, the Honorable Judge William Delburton presiding.”
“You may be seated,” the judge said. “Good afternoon, everyone.” He glanced at Bennie as she sat down, then at plaintiff’s counsel table. “Counsel, as you may have heard, our jury has a question. I’ll read it to you.”
Ray grabbed Bennie’s hand. She pretended not to notice. Litigation reduced men to little boys, and women to Gloria Allred.
Judge Delburton slipped on black reading glasses that matched his robe. “The question reads, ‘Judge Delburton, are we allowed to give the plaintiff more than the three million dollars he is asking for?’”
Oh my God.
Bennie’s mouth went dry. This couldn’t be happening. It was a runaway jury. Ray slumped in his seat like a crash-test dummy.
Judge Delburton gestured to plaintiff’s table. “Counsel, what is plaintiff’s position on the answer to this question?”
“Thank you, Your Honor.” Plaintiff’s counsel rose and couldn’t hide a giddy chuckle. “The answer to the question is yes. In addition to the three million dollars in compensatory damages, plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages. We put on substantial evidence of the invidious nature of the misconduct and fraud perpetrated by the defendant company and its owner, Mr. Finalil. An award in excess of the three million in damages is more than justified.”
“Thank you.” Judge Delburton slipped off his glasses and turned to Bennie. “Ms. Rosato, for the defense, your thoughts on this matter.”
“Thank you, Your Honor.” Bennie swallowed with difficulty and rose on weak knees. “The answer to the jury’s question should be no. The jury may not extend damages to a figure that plaintiff’s evidence doesn’t factually support. The jury should be charged again and told that they are required to base their verdict on the evidence, not on anything else.”