I edged forward on my pew in the gallery so I wouldn’t miss a single word. My ex-lover’s new girlfriend, Eve Eberlein, was about to be publicly humiliated by the Honorable Edward J. Thompson. I wanted to dance with joy right there in the courtroom. Hell hath no fury like a lawyer scorned.
“Let me remind you of something you have plainly forgotten, Ms. Eberlein,” Judge Thompson was saying between discreetly clenched teeth. A bald, gentlemanly judge, his legendary patience had been tested by Eve’s attack on the elderly witness. “This is a court of law. There are rules of conduct. Civility, manners. One doesn’t check common courtesy at the door of my courtroom.”
“Your Honor, this witness is not being candid with the court,” Eve said. Her spiky brunette cut bounced in defiance as she stood before the dais, in perfect makeup and a red knit suit that fit her curves like an Ace bandage. Not that I was jealous.
“Utter nonsense, Ms. Eberlein!” Judge Thompson scoffed, peering down through reading glasses that matched his robe. “I will not permit you to cast aspersions on the character of a witness. You have asked her the same question over and over, and she’s told you she doesn’t remember where the Cetor file is. She retired two years ago, if you recall. Move on to your next question, counsel.”
“With all due respect, Your Honor, Mrs. Debs was the records custodian at Wellroth Chemical and she remembers perfectly well where the Cetor file is. I tell you, the witness is lying to the Court!” Eve pointed like a manicured Zola at Mrs. Debs, whose powdered skin flushed a deep pink.
“My goodness!” she exclaimed, hand fluttering to the pearls at her chest. Mrs. Debs had a halo of fuzzy gray hair and a face as honest as Aunt Bea’s. “I would never, ever lie to a court!” she said, and anybody with any sense could see she was telling the truth. “Heavens, I swore on a Bible!”
“Ms. Eberlein!” Judge Thompson exploded. “You’re out of order!” He grabbed his gavel and pounded it hard.Crak! Crak! Crak!
Meanwhile, Mark Biscardi, my ex-boyfriend and still-current law partner, was fake-reading exhibits at counsel table. He was downplaying the debacle for the jury’s benefit, but was undoubtedly listening to every syllable. I hoped he remembered my prediction that Eve would crash and burn today, so I could say I told you so.
“I object, Your Honor!” shouted plaintiffs counsel, Gerry McIllvaine. “Ms. Eberlein’s conduct toward this witness is an outrage! An outrage!” McIllvaine, a trial veteran, had been standing out of the crossfire, keeping his mouth shut until it was time to grandstand for the jury. All the courtroom’s a stage, and all the men and women in it merely lawyers.
Then, suddenly, I began to focus on the jury box. Most of the jurors in the front row were scowling at Eve as Judge Thompson continued his lecture. Two jurors in the back, retirees like Mrs. Debs, bore a prim smile at Eve’s comeuppance. Eve had alienated the lot, and it would taint their view of the defendant’s case. Unfortunately, this was a high-stakes trial and the defendant was a major client of my law firm, Rosato amp; Biscardi, alias R amp; B.
Damn. I sat up straighter and looked worriedly at Mark, but he was stuck playing with the trial exhibits. He and I had started R amp; B seven years ago and watched it grow into one of the most successful litigation boutiques in Philadelphia. I cared about the firm so much I couldn’t even enjoy watching Eve screw up something besides my love life. Something had to be done.
I stood up in the middle of the proceedings, calling attention to myself without a word because of my height, a full six feet. It’s a great height for a trial lawyer, but as a teenager I stood by so many punchbowls I got sick from the fumes. I grew up to be taller, blonder, and stronger, so that now I looked like an Amazon with a law degree.
“Ouch!” said the lawyer sitting next to me, as I trounced solidly on his wingtip.
“Oh, excuse me,” I yelped, almost as loudly as Judge Thompson, still scolding Eve, with the jury’s rapt attention.
“Shhh,” said another lawyer.
“Sorry, so sorry,” I chirped, struggling out of the crowded row like a boor going for Budweiser in the second inning. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of the jurors, the Hispanic man on the end, was being successfully distracted. “Oops! Sorry about that,” I practically shouted.
Once out of the row, I strode past the bar of the court to counsel table, where my ex-beloved was sweating armholes into his English pinstripes. As Mark turned to see what the commotion was, I leaned close to his dark, wavy hair and breathed in his expensive creme rinse. “You’re fucked, hombre,” I whispered, with some pleasure.
“It’s her first time out,” he hissed back. “She made a mistake.”
“No,you made a mistake. I told you she isn’t a trial lawyer. She can’t connect with people, she’s too cold. Now hold up an exhibit so we can fight in peace.”
Mark grabbed an exhibit and ducked behind it. “What’s happening with the jury? This is killing us.”
I snuck a peek sideways. Most of the jurors were watching me and Mark by now. I wondered if any recognized me, infamous radical lawyer Bennie Rosato. I could only hope my hair looked less incendiary than usual. “The jury’s wondering whether we’re still sleeping together. Where’s the client, Haupt? He’s the cheese, right?”
“Yeah, Dr. Otto Haupt. Guy with the steel glasses in the front row. How’s he taking it?”
I checked the reaction of the aforementioned, but his expression was a double-breasted blank. “He’s a suit, not a face. And no more excuses for your new girlfriend. Deal with her.”
“What do you want me to do, spank her?”
“You wish.” He’d tried it with me once but I’d laughed myself silly. “Keep her at second-chair. Don’t let her take any more witnesses.”
“She needs to work on her people skills, that’s all.”
“I hate that expression, ‘people skills.’ What does that mean? You either have a heart or you don’t.”
He flashed me a photogenic smile. “Why are you here, Bennie? Do I need to take this shit from you, now? In the middle of trial?”
“It’s the least you can do, I’m about to save your ass. Grab the glass next to that file.” I picked up a pitcher of water from counsel table. It was heavy and cold, and there were even some ice cubes left. Perfect.
“Why am I doing this?” He reached for the glass.
“Don’t you remember Leo Melly, the transvestite who wanted to march in the Columbus Day parade? From the old days, when you fought for things that mattered, like the right to wear puce in broad daylight?”
A glint of recognition flickered through Mark’s gorgeous brown eyes and he hoisted his glass. “Way to go, Bennie. Just don’t mess up the patent application, it’s an original.”
“Brace yourself.” I reached for the glass but it popped out of my outstretched hand and tumbled end over end like a fumbled football.“Whoooops!” I squealed, lunging for the glass, but missing it so expertly that I bobbled the pitcher, too. Ice cubes and frigid water gushed out like a mountain waterfall, raced past the errant glass in an icy torrent, and landed with a noisy splash in the middle of Mark’s lap.
“Argh!” Mark shouted, springing to his feet. “Jesus! That’s cold!” Eyes wide, he jumped away from counsel table, crunching the ice cubes in a frantic jig.
“Oh no!” I cried, then dropped the glass pitcher on his foot. “Oh, it slipped!”
“Yeeow!” Mark grabbed his toe. “Jesus H. Christ!”
“Oh, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” I flapped my arms like a baby seal and tried to look helpless, which isn’t easy for me. I haven’t been helpless a day in my life.
Meantime, chaos was erupting at the front of the courtroom. A juror in the first row pointed in surprise. The back row, mostly older women, burst into giggles. Eve had turned around, her lipsticked mouth hanging open. Judge Thompson tore off his glasses, his lecture abandoned. “Bailiff! Deputy!” he barked. “Get some paper towels! I won’t have my tables stained!”
“Yes, Your Honor,” said the courtroom deputy, who was already hurrying over with paper towels. He shot me a dirty look as he mopped up the water pooling on counsel table and dripping onto the dark blue rug.
“Can I have a few of those?” Mark asked. He snatched a handful of towels and dabbed his crotch, which triggered another wave of tittering from the jurors in the back.
Judge Thompson sighed audibly. “Let’s break for the morning recess, ladies and gentlemen. Ms. Howard, please escort the jury out, since the deputy is otherwise engaged.”Crak! He eased out of his chair and left the dais shaking his head.
“It’s your mess, you clean it up,” snapped the deputy. “Better make sure there’s no water marks.” He dumped the pile of paper towels on the table and walked off toward the court reporter, who was flexing her fingers.
The courtroom emptied quickly, the lawyers laughing and talking as they filed out. Plaintiffs counsel snapped his briefcase shut and left, walking past Dr. Haupt, who lingered by the door, his Teutonic features betraying only the slightest bit of annoyance. My acting had been so good I fooled even him. So be it. It wouldn’t be the first time I looked like a jerk for the cause.
“Thanks a whole lot, Bennie,” Mark said. He swabbed the huge, wet stain spreading like bad news across his crotch.
“Sorry, partner,” I told him, surprised to feel a tiny twinge of regret. Ice cubes melted into the rug, and Eve stepped over them delicately to reach us.
“You okay, honey?” she asked softly, and rubbed Mark’s back with a concern so touching I almost gagged.
“It’s water,” I pointed out. “He’ll live.”
“You could have been more careful,” she said, frowning. “I was just getting into my cross.”
I almost laughed. “Do you really believe this was an accident, child? I dumped the water to-”
“That’s enough, Bennie,” Mark interrupted, holding up a wet paper towel. “I’ll handle this.”
“I’ll handle it.”
“You’d better. I have to go, I have a new client. Lots of luck, kids.” I turned to avoid a puddle, then took off, banging through the heavy mahogany doors. As they closed I heard Eve’s laughter, followed by Mark’s. Masculine, heartier.
I remembered his laugh, I remembered it all.
Now what I had to do was forget it.