The Woods, Page 6Harlan Coben
ARRIVED IN MY OFFICE EARLY THE NEXT MORNING. In half an hour, I would have Chamique Johnson, the victim, on the stand. I was going over my notes. When the clock struck nine, I had enough. So I called Detective York.
"Mrs. Perez lied," I said.
He listened to my explanation.
"Lied," York repeated when I finished. "Don't you think that's a little strong?"
"What would you call it?"
"Maybe she just made a mistake?"
"A mistake about which one of her son's arms was scarred?"
"Sure, why not. She knew it wasn't him already. Natural. "
I wasn't buying it. "Have you got anything new on the case?"
"We think Santiago was living in New Jersey. "
"You have an address?"
"Nope. But we have a girlfriend. Or at least we think she's a girlfriend. A friend anyway. "
"How did you find her?"
"That empty cell phone. She called it looking for him. "
"So who is he really? Manolo Santiago, I mean?"
"Don't know. "
"The girlfriend won't tell you?"
"The girlfriend only knew him as Santiago. Oh, something else important. "
"His body was moved. I mean, we were sure of that in the first place. But now we have it confirmed. And our ME says, based on the bleeding out and some other nonsense I don't quite understand or care to, Santiago was probably dead an hour before he got dumped. There are some carpet fibers, stuff like that. Preliminary shows that they're from a car. "
"So Santiago was murdered, stuck in a trunk, and then dumped in Washington Heights?"
"That's our working theory. "
"Do you have a make on the car?"
"Not yet. But our guy says it's something old. That's all he knows. But they're working on it. "
"I don't know. Not new. Come on, Copeland, give me a break here. "
"I have a pretty big personal interest in this case. " "Speaking of which. "
"Why don't you jump in and help?"
"Meaning I have a psychotic caseload. We now have a possible New Jersey connection -Santiago probably lived there. Or at least his girlfriend does. And that's where she saw him exclusively, in New Jersey. " My county?
"No, I think it's Hudson. Or maybe Bergen. Hell, I don't know. But its close enough. But let me add something else into the mix. "
"I'm listening. "
"Your sister lived in New Jersey, right?"
"That's not my jurisdiction. You can probably claim it as your own, even if it's out of your county. Open up the old case, it's not like any body else wants it. "
I thought about that. I was being played, in part. He was hoping I'd do some of his legwork and hand off the glory, all of which was fine for me.
"This girlfriend," I said. "Do you have a name?"
"Raya Singh. "
"How about an address?"
"You're going to talk to her?"
"As long as you don't screw up my case, you can do whatever you want. But can I give you a piece of friendly advice?"
"That lunatic, the Summer Slasher. I forget his real name. "
"Wayne Steubens," I said.
"You knew him, didn't you?"
"Have you read the case file?" I asked.
"Yep. They looked at you hard for it, didn't they?"
I still remember that Sheriff Lowell, that look of skepticism. Understandable, of course.
"What's your point?"
"Just this: Steubens is still looking to overturn his conviction. "
"He was never tried for those first four murders," I said. "They didn't need them, they had better evidence in the other cases. "
"I know. But still. He was linked. If it really is Gil Perez and Steubens was to hear, well, it would help him. You know what I'm saying?"
He was saying to keep it quiet until I knew something for sure. I got that. The last thing I wanted to do was help Wayne Steubens.
We hung up. Loren Muse stuck her head in my office.
"You got anything new for me?" I asked.
"Nope. Sorry. " She checked her watch. "You ready for your big direct?"
"I am. "
"Then come on. Its show time. "
"The People call Chamique Johnson. "
Chamique was dressed on the conservative side but not ridiculously so. You could still see the street. You could still see the curves. I even had her wear high heels. There are times you try to obstruct the jury's view. And there are times, like this, when you know that your only chance is for them to see the entire picture, warts and all.
Chamique kept her head high. Her eyes shifted right and left, not in a dishonest, Nixon way but in a where-is-the-next-blow-coming-from way. Her makeup was a little heavy. But that was okay too. It made her look like a girl trying to look like a grown-up.
There were those in my office who disagreed with this strategy. But I believed that if you are going to go down, go down with the truth. So that was what I was prepared to do now.
Chamique stated her name and swore on the Bible and sat down. I smiled at her and met her eye. Chamique offered me a little nod, giving me the okay to go ahead.
"You work as a stripper, isn't that right?"
Opening up with a question like that, without any preliminaries, surprised the gallery. There were a few gasps. Chamique blinked. She had some idea of what I was going to do here, but I had intentionally not been specific.
"Part time," she said.
I didn't like that answer. It seemed too wary.
"But you do take off your clothes for money, right?"
That was more like it. No hesitation.
"Do you strip in clubs or at private parties?"
"What club do you strip out of?"
"Pink Tail. It's in Newark. "
"How old are you?" I asked.
"Don't you have to be eighteen to strip?"
"So how do you get around that?"
Chamique shrugged. "I got a fake ID, says I'm twenty-one. "
"So you break the law?"
"Guess so. "
"Do you break the law or not?" I asked. There was a hint of steel in my voice. Chamique understood. I wanted her to be honest. I wanted her to-pardon the pun, her being a stripper and all-expose herself totally. The steel was a reminder.
"Yeah. I break the law. "
I looked over at the defense table. Mort Pubin stared at me as if I were out of my mind. Flair Hickory had his palms pressed together, his index finger resting on his lips. Their two clients, Barry Marantz and Edward Jenrette, wore blue blazers and pale faces. They did not look smug or confident or evil. They looked contrite and scared and very young. The cynic would say that this was intentional-that their lawyers had told them how to sit and what expressions to wear on their faces. But I knew better. I just didn't let it matter to me.
I smiled at my witness. "You're not the only one, Chamique. We found a bunch of fake IDs at your rapists' frat house, so that they could all go out and do a little underage partying. At least you broke the law to make a living. "
Mort was on his feet. "Objection!"
But it was in. As the old saw goes, "You can't unring a bell. "
"Miss Johnson," I continued, "you're not a virgin, are you?"
"In fact, you have a son out of wedlock. "
"I do. "
"How old is he?"
"Fifteen months. "
"Tell me, Miss Johnson. Does the fact that you're not a virgin and have a son out of marriage make you less of a human being?" "Objection!" "Sustained. " The judge, a bushy-eyed man named Arnold Pierce, frowned at me.
"I'm just p
ointing out the obvious, Your Honor. If Miss Johnson were an upper-class blonde from Short Hills or Livingston-"
"Save it for the summation, Mr. Copeland. "
I would. And I had used it in the opening. I turned back to my victim.
"Do you enjoy stripping, Chamique?"
"Objection!" Mort Pubin was up again. "Irrelevant. Who cares if she likes stripping or not?" Judge Pierce looked at me. "Well?" "Tell you what," I said, looking at Pubin. "I won't ask about her stripping if you don't. "
Pubin went still. Flair Hickory still had not spoken. He did not like to object. By and large, juries don't like objections. They think you're hiding something from them. Flair wanted to stay liked. So he had Mort do the hatchet work. It was the attorney version of good cop, bad cop.
I turned back to Chamique. "You weren't stripping the night you were raped, were you?"
"Alleged rape," I corrected.
"No," Chamique said. "I was invited. "
"You were invited to a party at the frat house where Mr. Marantz and Mr. Jenrette live?"
"That's right. "
"Did either Mr. Marantz or Mr. Jenrette invite you?"
"Another boy who lived there. "
"Whats his name?"
"Jerry Flynn. "
"I see. How did you meet Mr. Flynn?"
"I worked the frat the week before. "
"When you say you worked the frat-"
"I stripped for them," Chamique finished for me. I liked that. We were getting a rhythm.
"And Mr. Flynn was there?"
"They all were. "
"When you say 'they all'-"
She pointed at the two defendants. "They were there too. A bunch of other guys. "
"How many would you say?"
"Twenty, twenty-five maybe. "
"Okay, but it was Mr. Flynn who invited you to the party a week later?"
"And you accepted the invitation?" Her eyes were wet now, but she held her head high.
"Why did you choose to go?" Chamique thought about that.
"It would be like a billionaire inviting you on his yacht. "
"You were impressed with them?"
"Yeah. 'Course. "
"And their money?"
"That too," she said.
I loved her for that answer.
"And," she went on, "Jerry was sweet to me when I was stripping. "
"Mr. Flynn treated you nicely?"
I nodded. I was entering trickier territory now, but I went for it. "By the way, Chamique, going back on the night you were hired to strip. . . " I felt my breath go a little shallow. "Did you perform other services on any of the men in attendance?"
I met her eye. She swallowed, but she held it together. Her voice was soft. The edges were gone now. "Yeah. "
"Were these favors of a sexual nature?"
She lowered her head.
"Don't be ashamed," I said. "You needed the money. " I gestured toward the defense table. "What's their excuse?"
But Mort Pubin wasn't done. "Your Honor, that statement was an outrage!" "It is an outrage," I agreed. "You should castigate your clients immediately. "
Mort Pubin turned red. His voice was a whine. "Your Honor!"
"Mr. Copeland. "
I held my palm up to the judge, signaling he was right and I would cease. I am a firm believer in getting out all the bad news during direct, albeit in my own way. You take the wind out of their cross.
"Were you interested in Mr. Flynn as a potential boyfriend?"
Mort Pubin again: "Objection! Relevance?"
"Of course it's relevant. They are going to say that Miss Johnson is making up these charges to shake down their clients financially. I'm trying to establish her frame of mind on that night. "
"I'll allow it," Judge Pierce said.
I repeated the question.
Chamique squirmed a little and it made her look her age. "Jerry was out of my league. "
"But, I mean, yeah, I don't know. I never met anyone like him. He held a door for me. He was so nice. I'm not used to that. "
"And he's rich. I mean, compared with you. "
"Did that mean something to you?"
I loved the honesty.
Chamique's eyes darted toward the jury box. The defiant expression was back. "I got dreams too. " I let that echo a few moments before following up. "And what was your dream that night, Chamique?" Mort was about to object again but Flair Hickory put his hand on Morts forearm. Chamique shrugged.
"It's stupid. "
"Tell me anyway".
"I thought maybe. . . it was stupid. . . I thought maybe he'd like me, you know?"
"I do," I said. "How did you get to the party?"
"Took a bus from Irvington and then I walked. "
"And when you arrived at the frat house, Mr. Flynn was there?"
"Was he still sweet?"
"At first, yeah. " Now a tear escaped. "He was real sweet. It was-"
"It was what, Chamique?"
"In the beginning", another tear ran down her cheek, "it was the best night of my life. " I let the words hang and echo. A third tear escaped. "Are you okay?" I asked Chamique wiped the tear. "I'm fine. " "You sure?" Her voice was hard again. "Ask your question, Mr. Copeland," she said. She was wonderful. The jury all had their heads up, listening to, and believing, I thought, every word.
"Was there a time when Mr. Flynn's behavior toward you changed?"
"I saw him whispering with that one over there. " She pointed toward Edward Jenrette.
"Yeah. Him. " Jenrette tried not to shrink from Chamique's gaze. He was half successful.
"You saw Mr. Jenrette whisper something to Mr. Flynn?"
"And then what happened?"
"Jerry asked me if I wanted to take a walk. "
"By Jerry, you mean Jerry Flynn?"
"Okay, tell us what happened. "
"We walked outside. They had a keg. He asked me if I wanted a beer. I said no. He was acting all jumpy and stuff. "
Mort Pubin was up. "Objection. "
I spread my arm and looked exasperated. "Your Honor. "
"I'll allow it," the judge said.
"Go on," I said.
"Jerry got a beer from the keg and he kept looking at it. "
"Looking at his beer?'
"Yeah, a little, I guess. He wouldn't look at me no more. Something was different. I asked him if he was okay. He said, sure, everything was great. And then", her voice didn't catch, but it came awfully close-"he said I had a hot bod and that he liked watching me take off my clothes. "
"Did that surprise you?"
"Yeah. I mean, he never talked like that before. His voice was all rough now. " She swallowed. "Like the others. "
"Go on. "
"He said, 'You wanna go upstairs and see my room?'"
"What did you say?"
"I said okay. "
"Did you want to go to his room?"
Chamique closed her eyes. Another tear leaked out. She shook her head. "You need to answer out loud. " "No," she said. "Why did you go?" "I wanted him to like me. " "And you thought he would like you if you went upstairs with him?" Chamique's voice was soft. "I knew he wouldn't if I said no. " I turned away and moved back to my table. I pretended to look at notes. I just wanted to give the jury time to digest. Chamique had her back straight. She kept her chin high. She tried to show nothing, but you could feel the hurt emanating from her.
"What happened when you got upstairs?"<
"I walked past a door. " She turned her eyes back to Jenrette. "And then he grabbed me. "
Again I made her point out Edward Jenrette and identify him by name.
"Was anyone else in the room?"
"Yeah. Him. "
She pointed to Barry Marantz. I noticed the two families behind the defendants. The parents had those death-mask faces, where the skin looks as if it were being pulled from behind, the cheekbones appear too prominent, the eyes sunken and shattered. They were the sentinels, lined up to shelter their offspring. They were devastated. I felt bad for them. But too bad. Edward Jenrette and Barry Marantz had people to protect them.
Chamique Johnson had no one.
Yet part of me understood what really happened here. You start drinking, you get out of control, you forget about the consequences. Maybe they would never do this again. Maybe they had indeed learned their lesson. But again too bad.
There were some people who were bad to the bone, who would always be cruel and nasty and hurt others. There were others, maybe most that came through my office, who just messed up. It is not my job to differentiate. I leave that to the judge during sentencing.
"Okay," I said, "what happened next?"
"He closed the door. "
She pointed to Marantz.
"Chamique, to make this easier, could you call him Mr. Marantz and the other one Mr. Jenrette?"
"So Mr. Marantz closed the door. And then what happened?"
"Mr. Jenrette told me to get on my knees. "
"Where was Mr. Flynn at this point?"
"I don't know. "
"You don't know?" I feigned surprise. "Hadn't he walked up the stairs with you?"
"Hadn't he been standing next to you when Mr. Jenrette grabbed you?"
"I don't know. He didn't come in the room. He just let the door close. "
"Did you see him again?"
"Not till later. "
I took a deep breath and dove in. I asked Chamique what happened next. I walked her through the assault. The testimony was graphic. She spoke matter-of-factly, a total disconnect. There was much to get in, what they had said, how they had laughed, what they had done to her. I needed specifics. I don't think the jury wanted to hear it. I understood that. But I needed her to try to be as specific as possible, to remember every position, who had been where, who had done what.
It was numbing.
When we finished the testimony on the assault, I gave it a few seconds and then approached our trickiest problem. "In your testimony, you claimed your attackers used the names Cal and Jim. "
"Objection, Your Honor. "
It was Flair Hickory, speaking up for the first time. His voice was quiet, the kind of quiet that draws all ears.
"She did not claim they used the names Cal and Jim," Flair said.
"She claimed, in both her testimony and prior statements, that they were Cal and Jim. "
"I'll rephrase," I said with a tone of exasperation, as if to say to the jury, can you believe how picky he's being? I turned back to Chamique.
"Which one was Cal and which one was Jim?"
Chamique identified Barry Marantz as Cal and Edward Jenrette as Jim.
"Did they introduce themselves to you?" I asked.
"So how did you know their names?"
"They used them with each other. "
"Per your testimony. For example, Mr. Marantz said, 'Bend her over, Jim. ' Like that?"
"You are aware," I said, "that neither of the defendants is named Cal or Jim. "
"I know," she said.
"Can you explain that?"
"No. I'm just telling you what they said. "
No hesitation, no trying to make excuses, it was a good answer. I left it alone.
"What happened after they raped you?"
"They made me clean up. "
"They stuck me in a shower. They used soap on me. The shower had one of those hoses. They made me scrub off"
"They took my clothes, they said they were going to burn them. Then they gave me a T-shirt and shorts. "
"What happened next?"
"Jerry walked me to the bus stop. "
"Did Mr. Flynn say anything to you during the walk?"
"Not one word?"
"Not one word. "
"Did you say anything to him?"
Again I looked surprised. "You didn't tell him you were raped?"
She smiled for the first time. "You don't think he knew that?"
I let that go too. I wanted to shift gears again.
"Have you hired a lawyer, Chamique?"
"What do you mean, kinda?"
"I didn't really hire him. He found me. "
"What's his name?"
"Horace Foley. He don't dress nice like Mr. Hickory over there. "
Flair smiled at that one.
"Are you suing the defendants?"
"Why are you suing them?"
"To make them pay," she said.
"Isn't that what we're doing here?" I asked. "Finding a way to punish them?"
"Yeah. But the lawsuit is about money. "
I made a face as though I didn't understand. "But the defense is going to claim that you made up these charges to extort money. They're going to say that your lawsuit proves, in fact, that you're interested in money. "
"I am interested in money," Chamique said. "Did I ever say I wasn't?"
"Aren't you interested in money, Mr. Copeland?"
"I am," I said.
"So," I said, "the defense is going to claim it's a motive to lie. "
"Can't do nothing about that," she said. "See, if I say I don't care about money, that would be a lie. " She looked at the jury. "If I sat here and told you, money means nothing to me, would you believe me? 'Course not. Same as if you told me you didn't care about money. I cared about money before they raped me. I care about it now. I'm not lying. They raped me. I want them to go to jail for that. And if I can get some money from them too, why not? I could use it. "
I stepped back. Candor-real candor-smells like nothing else.
"Nothing further," I said.