Authors: Mark Dryden

Tags: #courtroom drama, #legal thriller, #comic novel, #barristers, #sydney australia


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by Mark Dryden



Published by Mark Dryden at
Copyright 2016



Two Homicide detectives drove
along the Princes Highway soon after dawn. The ocean glittered on
their left and the sun sat on the horizon like a burning oil

However, Detective Inspector
Paul Holloway couldn’t enjoy the scenery because his companion,
Detective Sergeant Dan Brooks, kept moaning about his wife. True,
she was a bitch. Holloway had met nicer serial killers. But Brooks
was giving him the shits. He married her; now he should just shut
up and do his time.

Brooks said: "You know, I keep
having a strange dream."

"What dream?"

"I dream that I’ve got to arrest
my wife."

Holloway felt a flicker of
interest. "Arrest her? What for?"

"Don’t know. Never find out. But
when I try to cuff her, she runs away."

"Yeah? What do you do?"

"I yell for her to stop, but she
keeps running."

"Yeah, and…?"

"I take out my pistol and shoot

Holloway was shocked. "You mean,
kill her?"

"Yeah, she's stone dead before
she hits the ground." Brooks glanced sideways. "Weird dream,

Hard to argue. "No warning


"Why not?"

Brook shrugged. "Dunno. Just
don’t think of it, I suppose. What do you think the dream

That you’re very fucked up.
Holloway stared hard at his partner. "You know, you really should
get some marriage counseling."

Brooks shrugged again.

Holloway decided that, from now
on, he’d confirm every night, that Brooks had checked his pistol
into the armoury.

Their destination was a
beach-house, just north of Nowra, nestled in a clump of eucalypts.
Holloway parked against the curb. They climbed out. A salty sea
breeze ruffled their ill-fitting brown wool-blend suits.

Holloway knew little about the
owner of the beach-house, Rex Markham. Just that he was a novelist
and, last night, someone broke into his Sydney terrace and stabbed
his wife to death. Now Holloway had to break the big news, if it
was news.

Brooks said: "You think this guy
murdered her?"

Funny question from a man who
had just talked about shooting
wife. Holloway frowned.
"Yeah. Probably."

"He’s a novelist, right?"


"Read any of his books?"

"Nah, I don’t read much. What
about you?"

"Nope. Don’t read at all."

Holloway pushed the doorbell.
"Well, let’s see what story he’s got to tell."

After about thirty seconds, the
door opened, revealing a tall, well-tanned man in his late-forties,
with brown hair and intelligent eyes. He looked puzzled. "Hello.
How can I help?"

Long practice had taught
Holloway how to dull his feelings at moments like this. "Rex


"I’m Detective Inspector
Holloway. This is Detective Sergeant Brooks. We’re from the
Homicide Squad."

Markham looked startled.
"Homicide Squad?"

Holloway studied him closely, to
see if his surprise was genuine. Hard to tell on such short
acquaintance. "Yes. I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news." Holloway
sucked in air. "Umm, your wife’s dead."

Markham’s jaw dropped. "Alice?
You’re joking, right?"

He looked sincere, but Markham
had met plenty of murderers who deserved Oscars.

Fortunately for Holloway,
Brooks, showing his usual insensitivity, stepped forward. "I’m
afraid not. She was murdered at your home in Sydney last

Markham put his head in his
hands. "That’s crazy. It can’t be true. I don’t believe you. Show
me some ID."

Brooks held up his official ID
card and Markham studied it intently. "Satisfied?"

Markham went white and wobbled
slightly. "I suppose so. God, this is terrible. What happened?"

"We’re still investigating. But
it seems someone broke into your house and stabbed her to

"Someone? Who?"

"We don’t know."

Markham slumped against the door
frame. His voice crackled. "I don’t believe this. This is

"Maybe. But when you feel ready,
we’ve got to ask you some questions."

"Like what?"

"Like when did you last see you

"Umm, about a week ago. Just
before I came down here to write."

"OK, and where were you last

"Here, of course. Why? You don’t
think I …"

Holloway interjected: "At the
moment, we don’t think anything." He held out a folded document.
"But I’ve got to serve you with this."

Markham took the document and
stared at it blankly. "What is it?"

"A warrant to search these

Markham looked nervous. "Search?

"Don’t worry, Mr Markham. This
is routine - just routine. You’ve got nothing to worry about."



Robyn Parker had appeared in
some shabby courtrooms during her four years at the Bar, but this
one took the prize. It was a Local Court with a low ceiling, bad
lighting, cheap pine-panelled walls and diseased carpet; an
overflowing waste bin and not even a water carafe on the bar table.
It made the law seem like a cheap commodity.

Her client, Mavis Vandervelt,
sat in the witness box. Mavis, 72, with her silvery bun, half-moon
glasses and prim lips, looked like she should be selling cakes at a
church fete. Hard to believe she’d been charged with swearing at a
police officer. According to the cop, after he stopped her for
speeding, she called him a "prick", a "piece of shit" and a
"fucking turd".

Before the trial, Robyn was sure
the cop was lying. True, there was something a bit spooky about
Mavis' relentless niceness. But Robyn believed her story that
the cop
used the bad language and, after Mavis complained,
charged her out of spite. It was well known that dead-beat cops
often used an offensive language charge to flex their puny

However, Robyn had already
cross-examined the cop without much success. He seemed surprisingly
decent and well-mannered. Obviously, a good actor.

Still, if Mavis performed well
under cross-examination, she would be acquitted. And surely she
would -
her patent decency would shine through.

The bald and burly police
prosecutor didn't mess around, quickly accusing Mavis of swearing
at the police officer.

She pursed her lips. "No I
didn’t. I was brought up properly: my mother taught me to
use bad language."

The prosecutor glared. "Really?
You’ve been charged with using offensive language before, haven’t
you, Mrs Vandervelt?"

Mavis had told Robyn she had no
criminal record. Robyn felt a shiver of concern, but remained
confident. This must be a mistake.

"No, I haven’t."

"Yes you have. Ten years ago,
you worked as a receptionist for an accountant called Frank Tucker,
didn’t you?"

Mavis frowned. "Ah, yes."

"And he sacked you, didn’t

A nervous wiggle. "I stopped
working for him."

"Yes. And then you started
making obscene telephone calls to his office, didn’t you?"

Mavis reddened. "That is untrue
- a total lie."

"But you were charged and
convicted, weren’t you?"

She rose slightly and grabbed
the front of the witness box, face red. "Yeah. But only because
told lies."

Robyn was shocked to hear Mavis
swear; her timing couldn’t be worse.

The prosecutor grinned. "That

Mavis frowned and sat down. "I
mean … umm …I mean, Tucker, Frank Tucker."

"You just called him a bastard,
didn’t you?"

"No, I didn’t."

"You mean, you don’t remember
calling him a bastard?"

Mavis looked genuinely
perplexed. "I didn’t call him that - I didn’t."

"Yes you did."

Mavis’ hands gripped the witness
box even tighter. "No, I didn’t."

The prosecutor shrugged. "Well,
Mrs Vandervelt, have it your way. But you made obscene calls to his
office, didn’t you?"

"No I didn’t."

"Yes you did. In fact, the
police taped one of your calls, didn’t they?"

"It wasn’t me on that tape."

"Yes it was."

"It wasn’t."

"It was, because you just can’t
control your bad language, can you?"

Her eyes bulged, as if some
demon inside was trying to break out. "Yes I can."

The prosecutor barked. "You

Mavis could control herself no
longer. Her eyes gleamed, nostrils flared and lips twitched. Her
mask of normalcy hit the ground and shattered into a thousand
pieces. She stood and half-screamed. "Yes I can. So don’t keep
talking to me like that you, you, you
." The word
sprang from her mouth like a battle-cry.

Squeals erupted from the party
of school-children in the back of the court. Robyn’s heart sunk.
Now she had
clients, one of whom was barking mad.

The prosecutor looked surprised
and delighted. "What did you call me?"

Mavis scowled savagely. "I call
you an
, because you are one - a fucking
." Her spittle doused the court reporter sitting
just below her.

The usually benign magistrate
stopped mangling his paper clips and scowled at the gorgon in the
witness box. "Madam, please control yourself. You’re in court."

Mavis glared at him. "I know
where I am."

"Then behave yourself - and sit

She waved a finger in his
direction. "I am behaving myself. But that … that bastard’s talking

Robyn wanted to crawl under the
Bar table and hide. But they’d soon come looking for her.

The magistrate frowned. "Madam,
don’t talk like that."

Fuck you, you knob-head
she said with true abandon.

. Robin hadn't
heard that expression for a while.

The Magistrate went crimson.

The police prosecutor smiled
triumphantly. "No further questions, your Honour."

The magistrate turned to Robyn,
trying to balance shock and amusement. "Umm, Ms Parker, any

She couldn’t repair this damage.
The jig was up. She sighed. "No, your Honour."

"Wise decision."

The Magistrate told Mavis she
could leave the witness box. Scowling and muttering to herself,
Mavis stomped over to a chair behind Robyn.

The police prosecutor and Robyn
only made perfunctory final addresses, because the result was
obvious. The Magistrate spent five minutes giving his reasons and
declared Mavis guilty.

Robyn stood. "Your Honour,
before you pass sentence, I think you should order a psychiatric

The magistrate nodded
energetically. "Yes. That would be a good idea. I so order."

He adjourned the matter for
several weeks so the report could be prepared.

As he left the bench, Robyn saw
that Mavis had put her saccharine mask back on - Client Number One
had returned from somewhere - though her eyes still had an eerie

Mavis said: "So what happened

"You were convicted."

"I lost?"



"Because you swore at the
magistrate and the prosecutor."

Mavis smiled with the beautiful
calm of the true hysteric. "No I didn’t."

No point telling someone who’s
mad that she’s mad. Robyn shrugged. "Well, he found you guilty

"Can I appeal?"

Robyn pictured the appeal judges
snickering over the transcript, but didn’t want an argument. "Yes,
you can."

"Good. Well, I don’t want to
sound rude, deary, because I appreciate everything you’ve done. But
I think I’ll get another barrister to represent me from now

Robyn was delighted. "Please

Mavis smiled serenely. "You
mean, you don’t mind?"

"Not at all."

"That’s very sweet of you."

As Robyn left the courthouse and
strolled towards the train station, one question was uppermost in
her mind: how did she end up appearing in the Local Court for
clients like Mavis Vanderveldt?



Robyn's most vivid memory of her
father was of the time, when she was five years old, that her
mother took her to watch him preside over a trial. They sat in the
back of an impressive mahogany courtroom with a huge coat of arms
hanging high above the bench. Her father, wearing a wig and gown,
argued for a long time with two fat, red-necked men also bewigged
and gowned. One wig was so yellow and shabby it looked ready to

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