“Are you included?” This brought a few light laughs.
“No. Now, there will be other lawyers and paralegals at both tables, prosecution and defense. This area is usually crowded. Over here, next to the defense, is the jury box. It has fourteen chairs—twelve for the jurors and two for the alternates. Most states still use twelve-man juries, though different sizes are not unusual. Regardless of the number, the verdict has to be unanimous, at least in criminal cases. They pick alternates in case one of the twelve gets sick or excused or something. The jury was selected last week, so we won’t have to watch that. It’s pretty boring.” The laser pointer moved to a spot in front of the bench. Theo continued, “The court reporter sits here. She’ll have a machine that is called a stenograph. Sorta looks like a typewriter, but much different. Her job is to record every word that’s said during the trial. That might sound impossible, but she makes it look easy. Later, she’ll prepare what’s known as a transcript so that the lawyers and the judge will have a record of everything. Some transcripts have thousands of pages.” The laser pointer moved again. “Here, close to the court reporter and just down from the judge, is the witness chair. Each witness walks up here, is sworn to tell the truth, then takes a seat.”
“Where do we sit?”
The laser pointer moved to the middle of the diagram. “This is called the bar. Again, don’t ask why. The bar is a wooden railing that separates the spectators from the trial area. There are ten rows of seats with an aisle down the middle. This is usually more than enough for the crowd, but this trial will be different.” The laser pointer moved to the rear of the courtroom. “Up here, above the last few rows, is the balcony where there are three long benches. We’re in the balcony, but don’t worry. We’ll be able to see and hear everything.”
“Any questions?” Mr. Mount asked.
The boys gawked at the diagram. “Who goes first?” someone asked.
Theo began pacing. “Well, the State has the burden of proving guilt, so it must present its case first. First thing tomorrow morning, the prosecutor will walk to the jury box and address the jurors. This is called the opening statement. He’ll lay out his case. Then the defense lawyer will do the same. After that, the State will start calling witnesses. As you know, Mr. Duffy is presumed to be innocent, so the State must prove him guilty, and it must do so beyond a reasonable doubt. He claims he’s innocent, which actually in real life doesn’t happen very often. About eighty percent of those indicted for murder eventually plead guilty, because they are in fact guilty. The other twenty percent go to trial, and ninety percent of those are found guilty. So, it’s rare for a murder defendant to be found not guilty.”
“My dad thinks he’s guilty,” Brian said.
“A lot of people do,” Theo said.
“How many trials have you watched, Theo?”
“I don’t know. Dozens.”
Since none of the other fifteen had ever seen the inside of a courtroom, this was almost beyond belief. Theo continued: “For those of you who watch a lot of television, don’t expect fireworks. A real trial is very different, and not nearly as exciting. There are no surprise witnesses, no dramatic confessions, no fistfights between the lawyers. And, in this trial, there are no eyewitnesses to the murder. This means that all of the evidence from the State will be circumstantial. You’ll hear this word a lot, especially from Mr. Clifford Nance, the defense lawyer. He’ll make a big deal out of the fact that the State has no direct proof, that everything is circumstantial.”
“I’m not sure what that means,” someone said.
“It means that the evidence is indirect, not direct. For example, did you ride your bike to school?”
“And did you chain it to the rack by the flagpole?”
“So, when you leave school this afternoon, and you go to the rack, and your bike is gone, and the chain has been cut, then you have indirect evidence that someone stole your bike. No one saw the thief, so there’s no direct evidence. And let’s say that tomorrow the police find your bike in a pawnshop on Raleigh Street, a place known to deal in stolen bikes. The owner gives the police a name, they investigate and find some dude with a history of stealing bikes. You can then make a strong case, through indirect evidence, that this guy is your thief. No direct evidence, but circumstantial.”
Even Mr. Mount was nodding along. He was the faculty adviser for the Eighth-Grade Debate Team, and, not surprisingly, Theodore Boone was his star. He’d never had a student as quick on his feet.
“Thank you, Theo,” Mr. Mount said. “And thank you for getting us the seats in the morning.”
“Nothing to it,” Theo said, and proudly took his seat.
It was a bright class in a strong public school. Justin was by far the best athlete, though he couldn’t swim as fast as Brian. Ricardo beat them all at golf and tennis. Edward played the cello, Woody the electric guitar, Darren the drums, Jarvis the trumpet. Joey had the highest IQ and made perfect grades. Chase was the mad scientist who was always a threat to blow up the lab. Aaron spoke Spanish, from his mother’s side, German from his father’s, and English, of course. Brandon had an early morning paper route, traded stocks online, and planned to be the first millionaire in the group.
Naturally, there were two hopeless nerds and at least one potential felon.
The class even had its own lawyer, a first for Mr. Mount.
The law firm of Boone & Boone had its offices in an old converted house on Park Street, three blocks off of Main and a ten-minute walk to the courthouse. There were lots of lawyers in the neighborhood, and all the houses on Park had become the offices of attorneys, architects, accountants, engineers, and so on.
The firm had two lawyers, Mr. Boone and Mrs. Boone, and they were equal partners in every sense of the word. Mr. Boone, Theo’s father, was in his early fifties, but seemed to be much older, at least in Theo’s well-kept opinion. His first name was Woods, which, to Theo, seemed more suited for a surname. Tiger Woods, the golfer. James Woods, the actor. Theo was still searching for another human being with the first name of Woods, though he didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about this slight nuisance. He tried not to worry about things out of his control.
Woods Boone. Sometimes, Theo pronounced the name quickly and it sounded like woodspoon. He’d checked and woodspoon wasn’t really a word, but he thought it should be. A spoon made from wood is known as a wooden spoon, not a woodspoon. But who uses a wooden spoon? Why worry about such trivial matters? Anyway, like one of those annoying habits you can’t break, Theo thought of the word woodspoon every time he approached the door to his father’s office and saw his name stenciled in black lettering.
His office was on the second floor, up some rickety steps covered with stained and threadbare carpet. Mr. Boone was on the second floor, alone, because the ladies below had sent him there for two reasons. First, he was a slob and his office was a wreck, though Theo loved it. Second, and much more offensive, Mr. Boone smoked a pipe, and preferred to do so with the windows closed and the ceiling fan off so that the air was thick with the rich aroma of whatever flavored tobacco he happened to favor that day. The smoke didn’t bother Theo, either, though he did worry about his father’s health. Mr. Boone was not exactly concerned with fitness. He exercised little and was a bit on the heavy side. He worked hard but left his problems at the office, unlike his law partner, Theo’s mom.
Because Mr. Boone was alone on the second floor, his office was huge. Long, saggy bookshelves lin
ed two of the walls and on the other two were ever-expanding collections of framed photographs depicting Woods doing all sorts of important things—shaking hands with politicians, posing with lawyers at bar meetings, and so on. Theo had seen the inside of several other lawyers’ offices in town—he was quite nosy and always looking for an open door—and he’d already learned that lawyers loved to cover their walls with such photos, along with diplomas and awards and certificates of membership in this club or that. The Ego Wall, his mother called it, sneering, because her walls were practically bare, with only a few pieces of some baffling modern art hanging about.
Theo knocked on the door as he pushed it open. He was expected to say hello to both parents each afternoon after school, unless he was busy elsewhere. His father sat alone behind an ancient desk that was covered with piles of paper. His father was always alone because his clients seldom stopped by. They called or sent stuff by mail or fax or e-mail, but they didn’t need to visit Boone & Boone to get advice.
“Hello,” Theo said as he fell into a chair.
“A good day at school?” his father asked, the same question every day.
“Pretty good. The principal approved our field trip to go to court tomorrow. I saw Judge Gantry this morning and he promised seats in the balcony.”
“That was nice. You’re lucky. Half the town will be there.”
“Are you going?”
“Me? No,” his father said, waving at the piles of paper as if they required immediate attention. Theo had overheard a conversation between his parents in which they had vowed not to stop by the courtroom during the murder trial. They were busy lawyers themselves, and, well, it just didn’t seem right to waste time watching someone else’s trial. But Theo knew that they, like everyone else in town, wanted to be there.
His father, and his mother to a lesser extent, used the excuse of too much legal work when they wanted to avoid doing something.
“How long will the trial last?” Theo asked.
“The word on the street is that it might take a week.”
“I’d sure like to watch all of it.”
“Don’t even think about it, Theo. I’ve already talked to Judge Gantry. If he sees you in the courtroom when you’re supposed to be in school, he will stop the trial, order a bailiff to take you into custody, and haul you away. I will not bail you out of jail. You’ll sit there for days with common drunks and gang members.”
With that, Mr. Boone picked up a pipe, fired a small torch into its bowl, and began blowing smoke. They stared at each other. Theo wasn’t sure if his father was joking, but his face certainly looked serious. He and Judge Gantry were old friends.
“Are you kidding?” Theo finally asked.
“Partially. I’m sure I’d fetch you from jail, but I have talked to Judge Gantry.”
Theo was already thinking of ways to watch the trial without being seen by Judge Gantry. Skipping school would be the easy part.
“Now shove off,” Mr. Boone said. “Let’s get the homework done.”
“See you later.”
Downstairs, the front door was guarded by a woman who was almost as old as the office itself. Her first name was Elsa. Her last name was Miller, though this was off-limits to Theo and everyone else. Regardless of her age, and no one knew it for certain, she insisted on being called Elsa. Even by a thirteen-year-old. Elsa had worked for the Boones since long before Theo was born. She was the receptionist, secretary, office manager, and paralegal when needed. She ran the firm, and occasionally she was forced to referee the little spats and disagreements between lawyer Boone upstairs and lawyer Boone downstairs.
Elsa was a very important person in the lives of all three Boones. Theo considered her a friend and confidante. “Hello, Elsa,” he said as he stopped at her desk and prepared to give her a hug.
She jumped from her chair, bubbly as always, and squeezed him tightly. Then she looked at his chest and said, “Didn’t you wear that shirt Friday?”
“I did not.” And he did not.
“I think you did.”
“Sorry, Elsa.” She often commented on his attire, and, for a thirteen-year-old boy this was tiresome. However, it kept Theo on his toes. Someone was always watching and taking notes, and he often thought of Elsa when he hurriedly got dressed each morning. Another irritating habit he couldn’t shake.
Her own wardrobe was legendary. She was short and very petite—“could wear anything,” his mother had said many times—and preferred tight clothing in bold colors. Today, she was wearing black leather pants with some sort of funky green sweater that reminded Theo of asparagus. Her short gray hair was shiny and spiked. Her eyeglasses, as always, matched the color of her outfit—green today. Elsa was anything but dull. She might be pushing seventy, but she was not aging quietly.
“Is my mother in?” Theo asked.
“Yes, and the door is open.” She was back in her chair. Theo was walking away.
“One of your friends called.”
“Said his name was Sandy and he might be stopping by.”
Theo walked along the hallway. He stopped at one door and said hello to Dorothy, the real estate secretary, a nice lady who was as boring as her boss upstairs. He stopped at another door and said hello to Vince, their longtime paralegal who worked on Mrs. Boone’s cases.
Marcella Boone was on the phone when Theo walked in and took a seat. Her desk, glass and chrome, was neatly organized with most of the surface visible, a sharp contrast to her husband’s. Her current files were in a tidy rack behind her. Everything was in place, except her shoes, which were not on her feet but parked nearby. The shoes were heels, which to Theo meant that she had been in court during the day. She was in a courtroom outfit—a burgundy skirt and jacket. His mother was always pretty and put together, but she made an extra effort on those days when she went to court.
“The men can look like slobs,” she said many times. “But the women are expected to look nice. What’s fair about that?”
Elsa always agreed that it wasn’t fair.
The truth was that Mrs. Boone enjoyed spending money on clothes and looking nice. Mr. Boone cared nothing for fashion and even less for neatness. He was only three years older in age, but at least a decade in spirit.
At the moment, she was talking to a judge, one who did not agree with her. When she finally hung up, her attitude changed quickly. With a smile she said, “Hello, my dear. How was your day?”
“Great, Mom. And yours?”
“The usual. Any excitement at school?”
“Just a field trip tomorrow, to watch the trial. Are you going?”
She was already shaking her head no. “I have a hearing at ten in front of Judge Sanford. I’m too busy to sit through a trial, Theo.”
“Dad says he’s already talked to Judge Gantry, and they’ve cooked up a plan to keep me away from the trial. Do you believe it?”
“I certainly hope so. School is a priority.”
“School is boring, Mom. I enjoy two classes. Everything else is a waste of time.”
“I wouldn’t say your education is a waste.”
“I can learn more in the courtroom.”
“Perhaps, but you’ll have a chance to spend plenty of time there one day. For now, though, we’re concentrating on the eighth grade. Okay?”
“I’m thinking about taking a few law courses online. There’s a cool website that offers some great stuff.”
“Theodore, honey, you’re not ready for law school. We’ve had this conversation. Let’s enjoy the eighth grade, then off to high school, then beyond. You’re just a kid, okay? Enjoy being a kid.”
He sort of shrugged, said nothing.
“Now, let’s get the homework done.”
Her phone buzzed and Elsa was sending back another important call. “Now, excuse me, Teddy, and please smile,” Mrs. Boone said. Theo eased out of the office. He carried his backpack through th
e copy room, always a mess, and worked his way through two storage rooms packed with large boxes of old files.
Theo was certain that he was the only eighth grader in Strattenburg with his own law office. It was a small boxlike closet that someone had added to the main house decades earlier, and before Theo took it over the firm had used it to store old law books that were out of date. His desk was a card table that was not quite as neat as his mother’s but much more organized than his father’s. His chair was a ragged swivel unit he’d saved from the junk pile when his parents had refurbished the library up front near Elsa’s station.
Sitting in his chair was his dog. Judge spent each day at the office, sleeping or roaming quietly around, trying to avoid the humans because they were always so busy. He was routinely kicked out of meetings. Late in the day, he eased back to Theo’s office, climbed into his chair, and waited.
Judge jumped to the floor, tail wagging, a very happy dog. Theo settled into his chair and put his backpack on the desk. He looked around the room. On one wall he’d tacked a large Twins poster with this season’s schedule. To his knowledge, he was the only Twins fan in town. Minnesota was a thousand miles away and Theo had never been there. He pulled for the team because no one else in Strattenburg did so. He felt it only fair that they have at least one fan in town. He’d chosen the Twins years earlier, and now clung to them with a fierce loyalty that was tested throughout the long season.
On another wall, there was a large, cartoonish sketch of Theo Boone, Attorney-at-Law, wearing a suit and a tie and standing in court. A gavel was flying by his head, barely missing him, and the caption read, “Overruled!” In the background, the jurors were howling with laughter, at Theo’s expense. At the bottom right-hand corner the artist had scribbled her name, April Finnemore. She had given the sketch to Theo a year earlier, for his birthday. Her dream was to run away to Paris now, and spend the rest of her life drawing and painting street scenes.
A door led to a small porch that led to the backyard, which was covered with gravel and used for parking.
As usual, he unloaded his backpack and started his homework, which had to be finished before dinner, according to a rather rigid rule established by his parents when he was in the first grade. An asthma condition kept Theo away from the team sports he longed to play, but it also ensured straight A’s in school. Over the years, he had grudgingly accepted the fact that his academic success was a good substitute for the games he missed. He could play golf, though, and he and his father teed off every Saturday morning at nine.
There was a knock on the back door. Judge, who kept a bed under the desk, growled softly.
Sandy Coe was also in the eighth grade at the middle school, but in a different section. Theo knew him but not well. He was a pleasant boy who said little. He needed to talk, and Theo welcomed him to his room. Sandy took the only other chair, a folding one that Theo kept in a corner. When they were both seated, the room was full.
“Can we talk in private?” Sandy asked. He seemed shy, and nervous.
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Well, I need some advice, I think. I’m really not sure about this, but I gotta talk to someone.”
Theo, the counselor, said, “I promise anything you say is kept in secret.”
“Good. Well, my dad got laid off a few months ago, and, well, things are pretty bad around the house.” He paused, waiting for Theo to say something.
“And last night my parents were having this real serious talk in the kitchen, and I should not have been listening, but I couldn’t help it. Do you know what foreclosure means?”
“What is it?”
“There are a lot of foreclosures these days. It means that a person who owns a home can’t make the mortgage payments and the bank wants to take the house.”
“I don’t understand any of this.”
“Okay. It works like this.” Theo grabbed a paperback and placed it in the center of his desk. “Let’s say that this is a house and you want to buy it. It costs a hundred thousand dollars, and since you don’t have a hundred thousand dollars, you go to the bank and borrow the money.” He placed a textbook next to the paperback. “This is the bank.”
“The bank loans you the hundred thousand, and now you’re able to buy the house from whoever is selling it. You agree to pay the bank, say five hundred dollars a month, for thirty years.”
“Yep. That’s the typical deal. The bank charges an extra fee for making the loan—it’s called interest—so each month you pay back part of the hundred thousand plus a chunk for interest. It’s a good deal for everybody. You get the house you want, and the bank makes money on the interest. All is well until something happens and you can’t make the monthly payments.”
“What’s a mortgage?”
“A deal like this is called a mortgage. The bank has a claim on the house until the loan is paid off. When you fall behind on the monthly payments, the bank has the right to come in and take the house. The bank kicks you out, and it owns the house. That’s a foreclosure.” He placed the textbook on top of the paperback, smothering it.
“My mom was crying when they were talking about moving out. We’ve lived there since I was born.”
Theo opened his laptop and turned it on. “It’s terrible,” he said. “And it’s happening a lot these days.”