The woods, p.7
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       The Woods, p.7

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 8

  The trial broke for lunch.

  Lunch is usually a time to discuss strategy with my subordinates. But I didn't want that right now. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to rework the direct in my head, see what I missed, figure out what Flair was going to do.

  I ordered a cheeseburger and a beer from a waitress who looked as though she wanted to be in one of those want-to-get-away? commercials. She called me hon. I love when a waitress calls me hon.

  A trial is two narratives competing for your attention. You need to make your protagonist a real person. Real was much more important than pure. Attorneys forget that. They think they need to make their clients sweet and perfect. They don't. So I try to never dumb it down for the jury. People are pretty good judges of character. They are more likely to believe you if you show your foibles. At least on my side, the prosecutions. When you're doing defense, you want to muddy up the waters.

  As Flair Hickory had made abundantly clear, you want to bring forth that beautiful mistress known as Reasonable Doubt. I was the opposite. I needed it clear.

  The waitress reappeared and said, "Here, hon," as she dropped the burger in front of me. I eyed it. It looked so greasy I almost ordered a side of angiogram. But in truth, this mess was just what I'd wanted. I put both hands on it and felt my fingers sink into the bun.

  "Mr. Copeland?"

  I didn't recognize the young man standing over me.

  "You mind?" I said. "I'm trying to eat here. "

  "This is for you. "

  He dropped a note on the table and left. It was a sheet from a legal yellow pad folded into a small rectangle. I opened it up.

  Please meet me in the back booth on your right.

  EJ Jenrette

  It was Edward's father. I looked down at my beloved burger. It looked back at me. I hate eating cold food or anything reheated. So I ate it. I was starving. I tried not to wolf it down. The beer tasted damn good.

  When I was done I rose and headed toward the back booth on my right. EJ Jenrette was there. A glass of what looked like scotch sat on the table in front of him. He had both hands surrounding the glass, as if he were trying to protect it. His eyes were transfixed on the liquor.

  He did not look up as I slid into the booth. If he was upset by my tardiness, heck, if he noticed it, EJ Jenrette was hiding it well.

  "You wanted to see me?" I said.

  EJ nodded. He was a big man, ex-athlete type, with designer shirts that still looked as though the collar was strangling the neck. I waited.

  "You have a child," he said.

  I waited some more.

  "What would you do to protect her?"

  "For one," I said, "I'd never let her go to a party at your sons frat house. "

  He looked up. "That's not funny. "

  "Are we done here?"

  He took a long pull on his drink.

  "I will give that girl a hundred thousand dollars," Jenrette said. "I will give your wife's charity another one hundred thousand. "

  "Great. Do you want to write the checks now?"

  "You'll drop the charges?"

  "No. "

  He met my eye. "He's my son. Do you really want him to spend the next ten years in prison?"

  "Yes. But the judge will decide the sentence. "

  "He's just a kid. At worst, he got carried away. "

  "You have a daughter, don't you, Mr. Jenrette?"

  Jenrette stared at his drink.

  "If a couple of black kids from Irvington grabbed her, dragged her into a room and did those things to her, would you want it swept under the rug?"

  "My daughter isn't a stripper. "

  "No, sir, she isn't.

  She has all the privileges in life. She has all the advantages. Why would she strip?"

  "Do me a favor," he said. "Don't hand me that socioeconomic crap. Are you saying that because she was disadvantaged she had no choice but to choose whoredom? Please. It's an insult to any disadvantaged person who ever worked their way out of the ghetto. "

  I raised my eyebrows. "Ghetto?"

  He said nothing.

  "You live in Short Hills, don't you, Mr. Jenrette?"

  "So?"

  "Tell me," I said, "how many of your neighbors choose stripping or, to use your term, whoredom?"

  "I don't know. "

  "What Chamique Johnson does or doesn't do is totally irrelevant to her being raped. We don't get to choose like that. Your son doesn't get to decide who deserves to be raped or not. But either way, Chamique Johnson stripped because she had limited options. Your daughter doesn't. " I shook my head. "You really don't get it. "

  "Get what?"

  "The fact that she's forced to strip and sell her self doesn't make Edward less culpable. If anything, it makes him more so. "

  "My son didn't rape her. "

  "That's why we have trials," I said. "Are we done now?"

  He finally lifted his head. "I can make it hard on you. "

  "Seems like you're already trying that. "

  "The fund stoppage?" He shrugged. "That was nothing. A muscle flex. " He met my eye and held it. This had gone far enough. "Good-bye, Mr. Jenrette. " He reached out and grabbed my forearm. "They're going to get off. "

  "We'll see. "

  "You scored points today, but that whore still needs to be crossed. You can't explain away the fact that she got their names wrong. That will be your downfall. You know that. So listen to what I'm suggesting. "

  I waited.

  "My son and the Marantz boy will plead to whatever charge you come up with so long as there is no jail time. They'll do community service. They can be on strict probation for as long as you want. That's fair. But in addition, I will help support this troubled woman and I will make sure that JaneCare gets the proper funding. It's a win-win-win. "

  "No," I said.

  "Do you really think these boys will do something like this again?"

  "Truth?" I said. "Probably not. "

  "I thought prison was about rehabilitation. "

  "Yeah, but I'm not big on rehabilitation," I said. "I'm big on justice. "

  "And you think my son going to prison is justice?"

  "Yes," I said. "But again, that's why we have juries and judges. "

  "Have you ever made a mistake, Mr. Copeland?"

  I said nothing.

  "Because I'm going to dig. I'm going to dig until I find every mistake you ever made. And I'll use them. You got skeletons, Mr. Copeland. We both know that. If you keep up this witch hunt, I'm going to drag them out for all the world to see. " He seemed to be gaining confidence now. I didn't like that. "At worst, my son made a big mistake. We're trying to find a way to make amends for what he did without destroying his life. Can you understand that?"

  "I have nothing more to say to you," I said.

  He kept hold of my arm.

  "Last warning, Mr. Copeland. I will do whatever I can to protect my child. " I looked at EJ Jenrette and then I did something that surprised him. I smiled.

  "What?" he said.

  "It's nice," I said.

  "What is?"

  "That your son has so many people who will fight for him," I said. "In the courtroom too. Edward has so many people on his side. " "He is loved. " "Nice," I said again, pulling away my arm. "But when I look at all those people sitting behind your son, you know what I can't help but notice?"

  "What?"

  "Chamique Johnson," I said, "has no one sitting behind her. "

  I would like to share this journal entry with the class," Lucy Gold said.

  Lucy liked having her students form a big circle with their desks. She stood in the center of it. Sure, it was hokey, her stalking around the "ring of learning" like the bad-guy wrestler, but she found it worked. When you put the students in a circle, no matter how large, they all had front-row seats. There was no place to hide.

  Lonnie was in the room. Lucy had considered letting him read the entry so she could better study the faces, but the
narrator was female. It wouldn't sound right. Besides, who ever wrote this knew that Lucy would be watching for a reaction. Had to know. Had to be screwing with her mind. So Lucy decided that she would read it while Lonnie searched for reactions. And of course, Lucy would look up a lot, pausing during the reading, hoping something would give.

  Sylvia Potter, the brown noser, was directly in front of her. Her hands were folded and her eyes were wide. Lucy met her eye and gave her a small smile. Sylvia brightened up. Next to her was Alvin Renfro, a big-time slacker. Renfro sat the way most students did, as though they had no bones and might slide off their chairs and become a puddle on the floor.

  "This happened when I was seventeen," Lucy read. "I was at summer camp. I worked there as a CIT. That stands for Counselor In Training. . . "

  As she continued to read about the incident in the woods, the narrator and her boyfriend, "P," the kiss against the tree, the screams in the woods, she moved around the tight circle. She had read the piece at least a dozen times already, but now, reading out loud to others, she felt her throat start to constrict. Her legs turned rubbery. She shot a quick glance at Lonnie. He had heard something in her tone too, was looking at her. She gave him a look that said, "You're supposed to be watching them, not me," and he quickly turned away.

  When she finished, Lucy asked for comments. This request pretty much always followed the same route. The students knew that the author was right there, in this very room, but because the only way to build yourself up is to tear others down, they ripped into the work with a fury. They raised their hands and always started with some sort of disclaimer, like, "Is it just me?" or "I could be wrong about this, but," and then it began:

  "The writing is flat. . . "

  "I don't feel her passion for this P, do you?. . . "

  "Hand under the shirt? Please. . . "

  "Really, I thought it was just dreck. "

  "The narrator says, 'We were kissing, it was so passionate. ' Don't tell me it was passionate. Show me. . . "

  Lucy moderated. This was the most important part of the class. It was hard to teach students. She often thought back to her own education, the hours of mind-numbing lectures, and could not remember one thing from any of them. The lessons she had truly learned, the ones she internalized and recalled and put to use, were the quick comments a teacher would make during discussion time. Teaching was about quality, not quantity. You talk too much, you become Muzak-annoying back ground music. If you say very little, you can actually score.

  Teachers also like attention. That can be a danger too. One of her early professors had given her sound and simple advice on this: It's not all about you. She kept that front and center at all times. On the other hand, students didn't want you floating above the fray. So when she did tell the occasional anecdote, she tried to make it one where she messed up-there were plenty of those anyway-and how, despite that, she ended up okay.

  Another problem was that students did not say what they truly believed as much as what they hoped would impress. Of course this was true at the faculty meetings too-the priority was sounding good, not telling the truth.

  But right now Lucy was being a bit more pointed than usual. She wanted reactions. She wanted the author to reveal him-or herself. So she pushed.

  "This was supposed to be memoir," she said. "But does anybody really believe this happened?"

  That quieted the room. There were unspoken rules here. Lucy had pretty much called out the author, called her a liar. She backtracked. "What I mean to say is, it reads like fiction. That is usually a good thing, but does it make it difficult in this case? Do you start to question the veracity?"

  The discussion was lively. Hands shot up. Students debated one another. This was the high of the job. Truth was, she had very little in her life. But she loved these kids. Every semester she fell in love all over again. They were her family, from either September through December or January through May. Then they left her. Some came back. Very few. And she was always glad to see them. But they were never her family again. Only the current students achieved that status. It was weird.

  During some point, Lonnie headed out. Lucy wondered where he was going, but she was lost in the class. On some days, it ended too quickly. This was one of them. When time ran out and the students started packing their backpacks, she was no closer to knowing who had sent her that anonymous journal.

  "Don't forget," Lucy said. "Two more pages of the journals. I'd like them in by tomorrow. " Then she added, "Uh, you can send more than two pages, if you want. Whatever you have for me. "

  Ten minutes later, she arrived at her office. Lonnie was already there.

  "You see anything in their faces?" she asked.

  "No," he said.

  Lucy started packing her stuff, jamming papers into her laptop bag.

  "Where are you going?" Lonnie asked.

  "I have an appointment. "

  Her tone kept him from asking any more. Lucy kept this particular "appointment" once a week, but she didn't trust anyone with that information. Not even Lonnie.

  "Oh," Lonnie said. His eyes were on the floor. She stopped.

  "What is it, Lonnie?"

  "Are you sure you want to know who sent the journal? I mean, I don't know, this whole thing is such a betrayal. "

  "I need to know. "

  "Why?" 1 cant tell you.

  He nodded. "Okay, then. "

  "Okay, what?"

  "When will you be back?"

  "An hour, maybe two. "

  Lonnie checked his watch. "By then," he said, "I should know who sent it. "