The Woods, Page 4Harlan Coben
'Tm TELLING YOU," I SAID YET AGAIN. "It's GlL PEREZ. "
"The guy who died with your sister twenty years ago. "
"Obviously," I said, "he didn't die. "
I don't think they believed me.
"Maybe it's his brother," York tried.
"With my sister's ring?"
Dillon added, "That ring isn't unusual. Twenty years ago they were all the rage. I think my sister had the same one. Got it for her sweet sixteen, I think. Was your sisters engraved?"
"So we don't know for sure. "
We talked for a while, but there was not much to add. I really didn't know anything. They would be in touch, they said. They'd find Gil Perez's family, see if they could make a positive ID. I didn't know what to do. I felt lost and numb and confused.
My Blackberry and cell phone were going nuts. I was late now for an appointment with the defense team in the biggest case of my career.
Two wealthy collegiate tennis players from the ritzy suburb of Short Hills stood accused of raping a sixteen-year-old African-American girl from Irvington named, and no, her name didn't help, Chamique Johnson. The trial had already started, had hit a delay, and now I hoped to cut a jail-time deal before we had to start up again.
The cops gave me a lift to my office in Newark. I knew that opposing counsel would think my tardiness was a ploy, but there wasn't much to be done about that. When I entered my office, the two lead defense lawyers were already seated.
One, Mort Pubin, stood and started bellowing. "You son of a bitch! Do you know what time it is? Do you?"
"Mort, did you lose weight?"
"Don't start that crap with me. "
"Wait, no, that's not it. You're taller, right? You grew. Just like a real boy. " "Up yours, Cope. We've been sitting here for an hour!" The other lawyer, Flair Hickory, just sat there, legs crossed, not a care in the world. Flair was the one I paid attention to. Mort was loud and obnoxious and showy. Flair was the defense attorney I feared like no other. He was not what anyone expected. In the first place, Flair - he swore it was his real name but I had my doubts, was gay. Okay, that wasn't a big deal. Plenty of attorneys are gay, but Flair was gay gay, like the love child of Liberace and Liza Minnelli, who'd been brought up on nothing but Streisand and show tunes.
Flair did not tone it down for the courtroom, he intentionally ratcheted it up.
He let Mort rant another minute or two. Flair flexed his fingers and studied his manicure. He seemed pleased by it. Then he raised his hand and silenced Mort with a fluttery wave.
"Enough," Flair said. He wore a purple suit. Or maybe it was eggplant or periwinkle, some such hue. I'm not good with colors. The shirt was the same color The Wood s 31 as the suit. So was the solid tie. So was the pocket hanky. So were-good Lord-the shoes. Flair noticed me noticing the clothes.
"You like it?" Flair asked me.
"Barney joins the Village People," I said.
Flair frowned at me.
"Barney, the Village People," he said, pursing his lips. "Could you possibly come up with two more dated, overused pop references?" "I was going to say the purple Teletubby, but I couldn't remember his name. "
"Tinky Winky. And that's still dated. " He crossed his arms and sighed. "So now that we are all together in this clearly hetero-decorated office, can we just let our clients walk and be done with this?"
I met his eye. "They did it, Flair. ''
He wouldn't deny it. "Are you really going to put that deranged stripper-cum-prostitute on the stand?" I was going to defend her, but he already knew the facts. "I am. " Flair tried not to smile. "I will," he said, "destroy her. " I said nothing. He would. I knew that. And that was the thing about this act. He could slice and dice and still make you like him. I'd seen him do it before. You'd think at least some of the jury would consist of homophobes and that they'd hate or fear him. But that wasn't how it worked with Flair. The female jurists wanted to go shopping with him and tell him about their husbands' inadequacies. The men found him so nonthreatening that they thought there was no way he could pull anything over on them.
It made for a lethal defense.
"What are you looking for?" I asked.
Flair grinned. "You're nervous, aren't you?"
"I'm just hoping to spare a rape victim from your bullying. "
"Moi?" He put a hand to his chest. "I'm insulted. "
I just looked at him. As I did, the door opened. Loren Muse, my chief investigator, walked in. Muse was my age, midthirties, and had been a homicide investigator under my predecessor, Ed Steinberg. Muse sat down without a word or even a wave. I turned back to Flair. "What do you want?" I asked again. "For starters," Flair said, "I want Ms. Chamique Johnson to apologize for destroying the reputation of two fine, upstanding boys. " I looked at him some more. "But we'll settle for an immediate dropping of all charges. " "Dream on. " "Cope, Cope, Cope. " Flair shook his head and tsk-tsked. "I said no. " "You're adorable when you're macho, but you know that already, don't you?" Flair looked over at Loren Muse. A stricken expression crossed his face. "Dear God, what are you wearing?" Muse sat up. "What?" "Your wardrobe. It's like a frightening new Fox reality show: When Policewomen Dress Themselves. Dear God. And those shoes. . . " "They're practical," Muse said. "Sweetheart, fashion rule one: The words shoes and practical should never be in the same sentence. " Without blinking an eye, Flair turned back to me: "Our clients cop to a misdemeanor and you give them probation. " "No. " "Can I just say two words to you?" "Those two words wouldn't be shoes and practical, would they?" "No, something far more dire for you, I'm afraid: Cal and Jim. " He paused. I glanced at Muse. She shifted in her seat. "Those two little names," Flair went on, a lilt in his voice. "Cal and Jim. Music to my ears. Do you know what I'm saying, Cope?" I didn't take the bait. "In your alleged victim's statement. . . you read her statement, didn't you?. . . in her statement she clearly says that her rapists were named Cal and Jim. "
"It means nothing," I said.
"Well, see, sweetie, and try to pay attention here because I think this could be very important to your case, our clients are named Barry Marantz and Edward Jenrette. Not Cal and Jim. Barry and Edward. Say them out loud with me. Come on, you can do it. Barry and Edward. Now, do those two names sound at all like Cal and Jim?"
Mort Pubin answered that one. He grinned and said, "No, they don't, Flair. "
I kept still.
"And, you see, that's your victims statement," Flair went on. "It really is so wonderful, don't you think? Hold on, let me find it. I just love reading it. Mort, do you have it? Wait, here it is. " Flair had on half-moon reading glasses. He cleared his throat and changed voices. "'The two boys who did this. Their names were Cal and Jim. '"
He lowered the paper and looked up as if expecting applause.
I said, "Barry Marantz's semen was found in her. "
"Ah, yes, but young Barry, a handsome boy, by the way, and we both know that matters, admits to a consensual sex act with your eager, young Ms. Johnson earlier in the evening. We all know that Chamique was at their fraternity house, that's not in dispute, is it?"
I didn't like it, but I said, "No, that's not in dispute. "
"In fact, we both agree that Chamique Johnson had worked there the week before as a stripper. " "Exotic dancer," I corrected. He just looked at me. "And so she returned. Without the benefit of money being exchanged. We can agree on that too, can't we?" He didn't bother waiting for me. "And I can get five, six boys to say she was acting very friendly with Barry. Come on, Cope. You've been around this block before. She's a stripper. She's underage. She sneaked into a college fraternity party. She got nailed by the handsome rich kid. He, what, blew her off or didn't call or whatever. She got upset. "
"And plenty of bruises," I said.
Mort pounded the table with a fist that looked like road kill. "She's just looking for a big payday," Mort said.
Flair said, "Not now, Mort. "
br /> "Screw that. We all know the deal. She's going after them because they're loaded. " Mort gave me his best flinty-eyed stare. "You do know the whore has a record, right? Chamique"-he stretched out her name in a mocking way that pissed me off, "has already got a lawyer too. Going to shake our boys down. This is just a big payday for that cow. That's all. A big friggin' payday. "
"Mort?" I said.
"Shh, the grown-ups are talking now. "
Mort sneered. "You're no better, Cope. "
"The only reason you're prosecuting them is because they're wealthy. And you know it. You're playing that rich-versus-poor crap in the media too. Don't pretend you aren't. You know what sucks about that? You know what really burns my butt?"
I had itched an ass this morning and now I had burned a butt. A big day for me.
"Tell me, Mort. "
"It's accepted in our society," he said.
"Hating rich people. " Mort threw his hands up, outraged. "You hear it all the time. 'I hate him, he's so rich. ' Look at Enron and those other scandals. It is now an encouraged prejudice-to hate rich people. If I ever said, 'Hey, I hate poor people,' I'd be strung up. But call the rich names? Well, you have a free pass. Everyone is allowed to hate the rich. "
I looked at him. "Maybe they should form a support group. "
"Up yours, Cope. "
"No, I mean it. Trump, the Halliburton guys. I mean, the world hasn't been fair to them. A support group. That's what they should have. Maybe hold a telethon or something. "
Flair Hickory rose. Theatrically, of course. I half-expected him to curtsy. "I think we're done here. See you tomorrow, handsome. And you", he looked at Loren Muse, opened his mouth, closed it, shuddered.
He looked at me.
"That Cal and Jim thing," I said. "It just proves she's telling the truth. " Flair smiled. "How's that, exactly?" "Your boys were smart. They called themselves Cal and Jim, so she'd say that. "
He raised an eyebrow. "You think that will fly?"
"Why else would she say that, Flair?"
"I mean, if Chamique wanted to set your clients up, why wouldn't she use their correct names? Why would she make up all that dialogue with Cal and Jim? You read the statement. 'Turn her this way, Cal. ' 'Bend her over, Jim. ' 'Whoa, Cal, she's loving this. ' Why would she make that all up?"
Mort took that one. "Because she's a money-hungry whore who is dumber than dirt?"
But I could see that I'd scored a point with Flair.
"It doesn't make sense," I said to him.
Flair leaned in toward me. "Here's the thing, Cope: It doesn't have to. You know that. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps it doesn't make sense. But see, that leads to confusion. And confusion has the major hots for my favorite hunk, Mr. Reasonable Doubt. " He smiled. "You might have some physical evidence. But, well, you put that girl on the stand, I will not hold back. It will be game, set, match. We both know that. "
They headed to the door.
"Toodles, my friend. See you in court. "