The 13th Juror
"We would give her more consideration, when we judge a woman, if we knew how difficult it is to be a woman."
"The fickleness of the women I love is only equaled by the infernal constancy of the women who love me."
Jennifer Witt rechecked the table. It looked perfect, but when you never knew what perfect was, it was hard to be sure. There were two new red candles – Larry had a problem with half-burnt candles, with guttered wicks – in gleaming silver candlesticks.
She had considered having one red candle and one green candle since it was getting to be Christmas time. But Larry didn't like a jumble of colors. The living room was done all in champagne – which wasn't the easiest to keep clean, especially with a seven-year-old – but she wasn't going to change it. She remembered when she'd bought the Van Gogh print (A PRINT, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE! YOU'D HAND A PRINT IN MY LIVING ROOM?) and the colors had really bothered Larry.
He liked things ordered, exact. He was a doctor. Lives depended on his judgment. He couldn't get clouded up with junk in his own home, he told her.
So she went with the red candlesticks.
And the china. He liked the china, but then he'd get upset that things were so formal in their own home. Couldn't she just relax and serve them something plain on the white Pottery Barn stuff? Maybe just hot dogs and beans? They didn't have to eat gourmet every night. She tried hard to please, but with Larry, you never knew.
One time he wasn't in the mood for hot dogs and beans; he'd had an especially hard day, he said, and felt like some adult food. And Matt had had a bad day at school and was whining, and one of the plates had a chip on the side.
She shook her head to clear the memory.
Tonight she was making up with him, or trying to, so she decided to go with the china. She could feel his dissatisfaction… it got worse every time before he blew up… and she was trying to keep the explosion off for a few more days if she could.
So she'd fixed his favorite – the special veal kidney chops that you had to go get at Little City Meats in North Beach. And the December asparagus from Petrini's at $4.99 a pound. And she'd gotten Matt down early to bed.
She looked at herself in the mirror, thinking it odd that so many men thought she was attractive. Her nose had a hook halfway down the ridge. Her skin, to her, looked almost translucent, almost like a death mask. You could see all the bone structure, and she was too thin. And her eyes, too light a blue for her olive skin. Deep-set, somehow foreign-looking, as though her ancestors had come from Sicily or Naples instead of Milano, as they had.
She leaned over and looked more closely. There was still a broken vein, but the eyeshadow masked the last of the yellowish bruise. As she waited for him to come home, checking and rechecking, she had been curling her lower lip into her teeth again. Thank God she'd noticed the speck of coral lipstick on her tooth, the slight smear that had run beyond the edge of her liner.
Quickly, listening for the front door, she stepped out of her shoes and tiptoed over the hardwood floor – trying not to wake Matt – to the bathroom, where the light was better. Taking some Kleenex, she pressed her lips with it and reapplied the pencil, then the gloss. Larry liked the glossy wet look. Not too much, though. Too much looked cheap, like you were asking for it, he said.
She walked back to the front of the house. When she got to the champagne rug, she slipped her pumps back on.
Olympia Way, up by the Sutro Tower, was quiet. It was the shortest day of the year, the first day of winter, and the street lights had been on since she had gotten back from shopping at 5:00 p.m.. She checked her watch. It was 7:15.
Dinner would be ready at exactly 7:20, which was when they always ate. Larry arrived from the clinic between 6:50 and 7:05 every day. Well, almost every day. When he got home he liked his two ounces of Scotch, Laphraoig, with one ice cube, while she finished putting dinner on the table.
She wondered if she should turn off the oven. Would he still want his drink first? If so, what about the dinner? She could put it out on the table, but then it might be cold before he got around to it. Larry really hated it when his meal was cold.
Worse, he might think she was trying to hurry him. What he didn't need after a long day seeing patients was somebody in his home telling him to hurry up.
The asparagus was the problem.
What if Larry walked in the door in exactly one minute and wanted to go right to the table and the asparagus wasn't ready? It had to cook in the steamer for ninety seconds – if there was one thing Larry really couldn't abide it was soggy limp asparagus. Maybe, if he came in and sat right down she could dawdle over serving the rest of the meal and the asparagus would be perfect just at the right time. That's what she'd do.
It was a little risky but better than putting it on now, thinking he'd get home on time and want to sit down right away, and then having him be late and the asparagus be overcooked.
No sign of his Lexus coming up the street. No one was coming up the street. Where was he? Damn, she was biting her lower lip again.
7:20. She turned the heat off under the rice. At least that would be all right for a while if she kept it covered – each grain separate just the way Larry liked it.
She made sure the water was right at the boil and that there was enough in the steamer. Everything depended on the asparagus being ready to go as soon as Larry walked in the door. As soon as she heard him, even. If the water wasn't boiling, or if it ran out underneath, that would ruin everything.
By 8:15 she had taken the chops out of the oven, refilled the water in the steamer three times and added butter to the rice to keep it from sticking, but there wasn't any hope now. At 7:35, she had poured Larry's Scotch and added the ice cube, now melted long ago. At the hour she poured the diluted drink into the sink.
She heard the footsteps on the walk outside. God, she hoped he'd found a parking place nearby. Sometimes if you got home late there wasn't anywhere to park within blocks, and that always put him in a real bad mood.
The dinner could, maybe, be saved. She knew what she could do… she'd pour him the new Scotch now, with a new ice cube, greet him at the door and let him unwind for twenty minutes until the second round of rice was cooked. She could microwave the chops on low power and they probably wouldn't get too dry. The asparagus wouldn't be any problem.
She had the drink in her hand, ready for him, when he opened the door. He was tall and very handsome – with his cleft chin and his body still young at forty-one. He had all his hair, wavy and fashionably long. An Italian suit, colorful tie with a snow-white shirt – colors, he said, were okay in a tie, so long as they didn't clash. She put the drink in his hand, pecked his cheek, smiled up at him.
"Where have you been?"
God she hadn't meant to say that. It had just come out, and right away she wished she could take it back.
"What do you mean, where have I been? Where do you think I've been?"
"Well, I mean it's late. I thought… I was worried."
"You were worried. I like that." He seemed to notice the drink for the first time. "What's this?"
"It's your Scotch, Larry. Why don't you sit down, relax."
"What time is it? You know when I get home this late I don't like to drink before dinner. I'd like some food in my belly."
"I know, but I thought…"
"Okay, you thought. You're trying. I appreciate it. But I'm starving. Let's just go and eat, all right?"
She stepped back, not too far, not as though she were retreating. "Dinner'll just be a few minutes, honey."
He stopped. "What do you mean, a few minutes? I walk in the door and there's no dinner? I work all day and I come home to no dinner?"
"Larry, there was dinner an hour ago. I didn't know you were going to be so late-"
"Oh, so it's late now. And somehow I've ruined dinner. Somehow it's my fault."
"No, Larry, it's not that. It just needs to be warmed up, it's all ready. Why don't you just have your drink? I'll call you in a couple of minutes."
She could use the old rice. Luckily she hadn't thrown it out. Maybe he wouldn't notice. And if she put the asparagus right in and micro'd the meat a little higher it should all be ready in five minutes, maybe less.
She saw his jaw tighten, his fists clenching shut. Opening, closing, opening, closing. She flinched backward, then, realizing it, gave him a quick smile. "Really," she said, "five minutes. It'll be no time. Promise. Enjoy your drink."
He looked down at the glass. "Don't tell me what to do, Jenn, all right? I've got patients all day giving me their opinions about things they know absolutely nothing about. All right?"
"Okay, Larry, Okay. I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "And please stop saying you're sorry for everything."
"Okay." She started to repeat that she was sorry and stopped herself just in time.
He was sipping his drink. His fists had stopped clenching. It looked like it was going to work.
For forty-three workdays in a row Dismas Hardy had put on his suit and tie and made a point of coming downtown to the office that he had rented. The office was an interim setup, not a commitment. He wasn't quite ready to go to work for a corporate law firm – not yet, at least, not without first seeing if he could work for himself and make a decent living involving the law.
He was beginning to doubt if he could.
His landlord was David Freeman, another attorney who had hung up a shingle to make a go of it – except Freeman had done it. Sixty years old and crustier than San Francisco's famed sourdough bread, the old man had become a legend in the city. His shingle now was a burnished brass plate – David Freeman amp; Associates – riveted to the front of the Freeman Building, a gracious four-story structure on Sutter Street in the heart of the financial district.
Freeman and Hardy had met as adversaries in a murder case a year before. Before it was over, they had begun grudgingly to admire one another for the traits they shared – a certain relentless doggedness, a rogue streak regarding how the law game was played, a passion for details, a personal need for independence. The admiration had gradually turned into friendship.
Over the next months Freeman had courted Hardy, subtly, counseling him on the perils of life in the big corporate firms. Oh sure, the money was great but there was also the tedium of the paperwork, the burden of having to find forty billable hours week after week after week, the dependence on some partner you'd have to kiss up to (who was probably younger than Hardy's forty-one). You lived in a beehive and every decision you made – from where you indented the paragraphs in your briefs to what you were going to plead for your clients – was subject to some committee's approval. Did Hardy want all that?
Why didn't he give his real dream and instincts a chance? Freeman would let him rent an office upstairs, use the library, borrow his receptionist, pay a nominal rent, at least while he made up his mind.
So forty-three days ago Hardy had come in.
He had been in the courtroom at the Hall of Justice four times since. Three of these cases – two referred to him by David – had been DUIs, driving under the influence, where Hardy's involvement had been, at best, tangential. The clients wound up paying their fines and going home. In the fourth case, one of Hardy's acquaintances had a friend, Evan Peterson, with fifteen unpaid parking tickets. Pulled over for gliding through a stop sign, Peterson had been arrested on the spot on the outstanding warrant. Peterson had called for his friend who'd called Hardy and asked if he'd come down to the hall and walk him through the administrative maze, which Hardy had done.
Life on the cutting edge of the law.
It was the middle of the afternoon. At lunchtime he had gone home to see his wife, Frannie, and their two children, Rebecca and Vincent. After lunch, he had run four miles along the beach, through Golden Gate Park, back along the Avenues to his house on 34^th. Then, giving in to his old Catholic guilt – what if a client was pounding on his door and he wasn't there? – he dressed in his suit again and drove back downtown.
Hardy had his feet up, reading. Looking up from the pages, he took a breath, trying to be philosophical about it, telling himself that today was the forty-third day of the rest of his life.
Freeman's receptionist, Phyllis, stood at the door to his office. She was a rigid but, Hardy thought, potentially sweet woman in her mid-fifties, smiling hesitantly. Hardy took his feet off his desk, put down his copy of A Year In Provenance – dreams, dreams – and motioned her in.
"You're not busy? I'm not interrupting you?"
He allowed as how he had a few minutes he could spare.
"I just got a call from a woman named Jennifer Witt. Do you know who she is?"
Hardy's feet were suddenly on the floor. Phyllis stepped further into the office. "She was arrested this morning and wanted to talk to David but he's in court." Freeman was always in court. "And none of the associates is here."
Freeman had a small crew of young lawyers working for him and managed to keep them all busy.
"David want me to go down?" Hardy was already up.
"I buzzed him and he just called me back. They were having a recess. He's afraid Mrs. Witt will go to someone else if we don't get a representative down there in a hurry. He asked if you wouldn't mind…"
"Jennifer Witt?" Hardy repeated.
Phyllis nodded. "I think it's maybe a big one," she said.
Coverage of the crime itself had been all over the newspapers and television. It was the kind of grist that was the lifeblood of local news – Larry Witt, a doctor, and his seven-year-old son Matt had been shot to death in their home. The mother had been out excercising. A neighbor had heard shots and dialed 911. When the mother returned from jogging, a policeman had just arrived at the door and had told her to wait downstairs while he went up. He then discovered the carnage.
In the first couple of weeks news reports had advanced the theory that a professional hit man had, for some unknown reason, been hired to wipe out the Witt family. Mrs. Witt had allegedly seen a suspicious man – an Hispanic or African-American – in the vicinity on the morning in question.
Jennifer Lee Witt, the wife, was hot copy on her own. Even the worst likenesses of her, two columns in the Chronicle or frozen as a teaser for the 6:00 p.m. news, crying or in apparent shock, revealed the photogenic face of a young woman just past innocence. The good shots tended to be so captivating that she almost appeared to be posing.
She was dressed in a yellow jumpsuit like all the other prisoners on the seventh floor. Though her blondish hair was cut short, the sides fell slightly forward, partially obscuring her face. She stared at the floor as she walked.
Through the wire glass window Dismas Hardy watched her approach the visitors' room, then turned back and sat at the table and waited until the guard could open the door and present her.
There was the sound of the key and Hardy stood.
"Mr. Freeman?" Tentatively, she had her hand out.
Disoriented, she now pulled in her hand and stepped backward. Hardy thought she looked about ready to break down. He spoke quickly. "I work with Mr. Freeman." Not strictly true. "He's stuck in court."
She didn't move. "What do you lawyers do, just pass people around? I called my husband's attorneys and they said they couldn't help me but David Freeman could. He's the best, they said."
"He's very good."
"So I agreed they could call him, fine, and next thing you know her you are. I'd never heard of Mr. Freeman. I've never heard of you. I can't believe I'm arrested. For Larry's murder, and my son Matt's for God's sake. They can't think I killed my little boy." At the mention of the son's name, her lip began to tremble. She turned away, hand to her face. "I am not going to cry."
Hardy nodded to the guard, who stepped out of the room and closed the door behind her. It was a small room, five-by-eight, with a pitted desk and three metal chairs taking up most of it. The window faced the office for the women's side of the jail. Two uniformed female guards moved in and out of the picture to their cluttered desks, up, out somewhere, then back in. The women's common tank was just around the corner. When the door had been open, noises exploded every minute or so. Clangs, sobs, voices. Now the door filtered most of the sound.
Hardy waited for Jennifer Witt's breathing to slow down. Finally she turned back to him. He was sitting with one leg over the corner of the table. "You can have Mr. Freeman if you'd like but he won't be available for a while. This is a grand-jury indictment. There is not going to be any bail."
"You mean I have to stay here? God… how long?" She was struggling with the effort to get words out. Suddenly she hung her head and sat down.
Hardy felt like an intruder. He let an eternal minute pass.
She took in a deep sigh as though she'd been holding her breath. I'm sorry, it's my fault. I just didn't want to get in any more trouble and I thought I should have a lawyer."
"Okay." Hardy had come off the desk and went to sit across the table from her.
"Not that it matters."
"It might," Hardy said.
She wasn't going to fight about whether having a lawyer was a good thing or not. Wearily, she shook her head. "I keep thinking something's going to help, something's going to make it better."
Hardy started to say that the right representation could make all the difference. But her gaze was a blank. He wasn't getting through. "Mrs. Witt?"
She wasn't there. Or rather, as far as she was concerned, Hardy wasn't there. She shook her head from side to side. Eventually, a pendulum winding down, she stopped. "No," she said. "I mean Matt. My baby."
Hardy took in a breath himself and held it a moment. He, too, had lost a son. Over the years he had gotten better at keeping it out of the front of his mind. But he would never forget, never even approach forgetting.
Looking at this woman – frail now in the jail's jumpsuit – he found himself feeling a strong connection. It was unguarded and maybe unprofessional, but there'd be no harm in letting the legalities wait a few minutes. God knew, once they began they'd go on long enough. "How long has it been?" he asked.
She pulled at a strand of her hair. "I can't accept it." Her voice was hoarse now, her eyes distant. "Nothing seems real anymore, you know?" She gestured around the tiny airless room. "This place. I feel like I'm sleepwalking in a nightmare… I want to wake up… I want Matt back…" She swallowed, seemed almost to gulp at the air. "God, I don't know. What can you do? What do you care?"
"I do care, Mrs. Witt."
She took that in without a blink, not a sigh, not a glance at him. Inside herself again.
Hardy looked down at his hands, linked on the table between them. Jennifer Witt wasn't worried about her lawyers and their games, about her bail and her baggy yellow jumpsuit. She'd lost her son and nobody was going to bring him back. She was right. Nothing Hardy could do would make that better.
There was a square of light from an outside window over one of the guard's desks. It had moved nearly a foot since Jennifer had been brought in.
She had begun to open up, to listen. The details of Hardy's proxy representation accepted for the moment, they were finally getting down to it. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life in jail, did she?
"Not for something I didn't do, Mr. Hardy."
"Okay. But let me ask you, what did you mean when you said you deserved it? Deserved what? "
In a reaction that struck Hardy as pathetic, she ducked away, as if she were going to be hit. "Nothing, anything… this…"
"I shouldn't have let it happen. I wasn't there. Maybe if I'd been there…" She shook her head again.
"What did happen? Why do the police think you did this?" Hardy wanted to hear her version. Never imagining he'd have any part in it, he'd followed the news of the crime casually as it appeared in the papers or on television, just another of the many stories of domestic woe that came and went to help sell soap or hamburgers or newspapers.
"I don't know. I don't understand. When they came to arrest me I asked them-"
"And what did they say?"
She shrugged, apparently mystified. "They got to talking about my rights, warned me about anything I said, that I could have a lawyer, that kind of thing."
"But you saw this was coming? You must have-"
She stopped him, interrupting with a dry noise that sounded bitter when it came out. "I haven't thought about anything, don't you understand that? I've been trying just to get through the days."
Hardy knew what she meant. She scraped a fingernail over the tabletop, staring at the yellowing strip of varnish that lifted and flaked away. Again, she swallowed – as though keeping herself from breaking down. But her voice – the tone of it – sounded almost matter-of-fact, if weary. He was sure the coloring was protective. Well, she would have to try to soften it if her case ever went to trial, if she ever testified. She would come across as too cool. Even cold.
But that, if at all, was a long way off.
"I was just getting used to the awfulness of it. I mean, okay, there might have been somebody who was robbing the house or had some problem with Larry – I don't know what. And Larry gets shot. Larry, Jesus… But Matt…?"
She was losing the fight with her tears.
Hardy was with her. "The papers always said Matt must have been an accident, he walked in at a bad time, something like that."
She nodded. "That's what I've been thinking about, Mr. Hardy. If only he hadn't been there, if it had been a school day, if Matt hadn't walked in or said something or whatever it was he did… Or if I had stayed home, could I have protected him?" She bit her lip, hit the table with her small fist. "That's what I've been thinking about, not the goddamn reasons somebody might have thought it was me. And that's all I've been thinking about." A tear hit the table and she wiped at it with her hand. "Goddamn it," she said. "Goddamn it."
Again sounding tough.
"It's okay," Hardy said, meaning the language, the loss of control.
Hardy sat back in the hard chair. She was right. And he believed her.
Eventually she came up with something.
"I guess maybe they thought it was the insurance, but it wasn't-"
"How much insurance?"
"Well, Larry… he was a doctor, and you know… maybe you don't, but doctors are crazy about insurance. They have to be, with malpractice and all. Anyway, Larry was insured for two-and-a-half-million dollars."
Hardy took that in. "Double for violent or accidental death?"
Jennifer nodded. "Larry wanted to be sure that… if he died he could have the house paid off and give me and Matt security. It didn't seem too much when we got it and Larry could afford it. But now they think I killed" – she paused, fought it again – "killed for the money which is ridiculous. We had enough money. I mean, Larry made six figures."
"But you'd have more if he wasn't in the picture?" Testing. He felt he had to.
"Yes, but…" She reached out to touch his sleeve. "I guess that's the other thing. We were fighting."
She shrugged. Her mouth parted, closed again. "I'd been seeing a psychiatrist, and Larry… anyway, we'd had some fights but we hadn't even gotten to talking about a separation. Neither of us wanted that. We had Matt."
"How long had you been married?"
Hardy had taken out his pad but mostly he was listening, waiting for a false note. Now he stopped her, realizing they'd been avoiding the main issue. "They didn't arrest you because you had a couple of fights with your husband, Mrs. Witt. There has to be something tying you more directly to the crime or there's no case. They tell you what that might be?"
She was biting down on her lower lip. "It must have been the gun, but the inspector asked me about that when they found it and I told them I didn't know anything about it."
"What about the gun?"
"It was Larry's gun… he was shot with his own gun. But at first they didn't know it was our gun, it wasn't found in the house."
"I don't understand."
"We kept it in the headboard, but they found it like two weeks later. The inspector said somebody found it under a dumpster and it had my fingerprints on it. I told him of course it had my fingerprints on it, I pick it up to dust inside the headboard every couple of weeks."
Hardy let his silence answer.
She shook her head. "I'd been out jogging. We live, lived-" She made a fist and hit the table. "You know what I'm trying to say."
"You're doing fine," he said. "Just tell me what happened."
Jennifer stared at her hand, the balled up fist. She covered it with her other hand and brought it back toward her. "The house is on Twin Peaks, you know, pretty far up. It was morning, maybe nine-thirty or ten o'clock. Larry lets me… I mean I usually run three times a week. When I got home there was a police car in front of the house, and the man was standing by the front door, which I remember thinking was strange because if he had knocked why wouldn't Larry or Matt have opened it, right?"
"But he was just standing there, so I opened the gate and asked if I could help him and he said he'd gotten a call about some shots. First some yelling and then some shots."
"Did you have a fight that morning? You and Larry?"
She seemed to duck again and Hardy found himself getting a little impatient with it. But her hand came back to his sleeve, tacitly asking for his indulgence. "How long had you been gone?" he asked.
"When? Oh, an hour. I had to be back within the hour." Seeing Hardy's reaction, she pushed on. "Larry worried if I wasn't home. He knew where I ran and how long it should take, so that… the hour thing… it was like a rule."
"Okay, let's go on. The policeman is waiting at your door."
"So I asked him if he'd knocked and he said yes but there wasn't any answer and I told him there had to be. I mean, I was sure Larry hadn't left. It was the week after Christmas, his first week off since last summer. Anyway, by now I'm starting to get worried. But maybe Larry's in the shower, or Matt is so they can't hear or something, right? But there's still no answer, so I take out my key and we go in and I'm calling 'Larry' and 'Matt' and I start to go upstairs, but this policeman tells me to wait and I go to the couch. Then he's at the top of the stairs saying 'Don't come up, stay right there now.' And I know. God, then I know."
Her mouth opened, closed, opened again. Finally she gave up the effort. She sat with her hands crossed in front of her, tears rolling off her cheeks and puddling on the table.
Hardy was not a popular man on the third floor of the Hall of Justice. The previous summer he had gotten caught in some political crossfire with Christopher Locke, his boss at the time, the District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco. They had exchanged a rather unlawyerly bit of badinage, after which Hardy had quit, gone to the defense side and beaten the Assistant DA, who had stolen his case from him, and by extension Locke himself, in court.
Now whenever he had occasion to walk the once-familiar halls he felt crosshairs on his neck. Still, he owed it to himself and to David Freeman – and Freeman's client if it turned out that she stayed that way – to test the waters here.
At the end of the public hallway, he stopped at the double-glass reception window and asked for Art Drysdale, the Chief Assistant District Attorney, with whom he had always had a cordial, even friendly, relationship, although that too had been compromised by the events of the last year.
"Is that all she told you?" Drysdale had pushed himself back from his desk and stopped juggling his baseballs, but he held three of them in one enormous hand against his cheek. "I think she left out a little tiny bit."
"Art, I just spent an hour talking to her. She didn't kill her son."
Drysdale, more or less expecting this, nodded. "Maybe not on purpose."
"What does that mean?"
"It means let's say the kid got in the way."
"Of what? "
"Of Mrs. Witt killing her husband."
Hardy turned in a half-circle. "Please…"
Leaning forward, Drysdale said, "Please yourself, Diz, this indictment is rock solid. The kid was there and died while she was committing the crime of murdering her husband. As if you didn't know, that makes the son a Murder One, too. Just like if a bank robber shoots a guard by mistake. Sorry, but Murder One."
"Have you talked to her?"
"Oh, sure. Everybody gets arrested, I run upstairs and protect their civil rights 'til they're processed. Then I hold their hand until bedtime and make sure they get tucked in. Give me a break, Diz."
Hardy knew Drysdale was right – of course there had been no reason for him to have talked to Jennifer Witt. But Hardy couldn't let it go. "She didn't even do it by mistake, Art."
Baseballs were getting juggled again, a bad sign. "That's why there are trials, my man. Figure out what really happened."
"But you've charged her."
Again, reluctantly, Drysdale stopped his routine. "Traditionally that precedes an arrest. You want, you can have a copy of the discovery on Larry Witt and Matt Witt. Read it yourself."
"You want to tell me about it?"
Art Drysdale, his old mentor, the man who had hired him back to the DA's office a year before, said, "I'd like to, Diz, but it's not my case. I don't know much about it."
Baloney. Art Drysdale knew the nuts and bolts of every case of any import that got charged, especially any murder case. "It's Dean Powell's case. You know where his office is, don't you?"
In other words, bye-bye, and don't stop back on your way out. You're on the other side now. See you around."
Hardy decided he would rather not talk to Dean Powell, not yet. Instead, he went upstairs to homicide, hoping to run into Sergeant Inspector Abe Glitsky. Hardy and Abe had started out together as policemen walking a beat. While Hardy had gone on to law school, then to the DA's office, Abe had progressed through the SFPD for almost ten years until he made it to homicide, the place he called home. If Drysdale no longer was any kind of inside source, Hardy had no doubts about Abe, who was sitting at his desk, looking down at some papers and chewing ice out of a styrofoam cup.
Hardy walked through the open room of the Homicide Detail, poured himself a cup of old coffee, pulled up a chair and waited. After a moment or so, he sipped loudly. Abe looked up. Then back down with no change of expression. "The element of surprise," he said, "in the right hands, can be a powerful weapon."
Hardy sipped again, more loudly than before. Glitsky raised his head and chewed some ice with his mouth open. One of the homicide detectives walked by behind Hardy and stopped. "I'd give it to Glitsky on points," he said. "Those are real attractive sounds."
Hardy swallowed his coffee and brought the file up, laying it on the desk. "What do you know about Jennifer Witt?"
After a last look down at the papers in front of him, Abe closed the folder. "I wasn't doing anything."
Hardy smiled. "You've told me many times that nothing you do when you're in the office is important, isn't that a fact?"
Glitsky ran a finger around his expressive mouth, caressed the scar that ran top-to-bottom between his lips. "I like the way you say 'isn't that a fact?' instead of 'isn't that true?' like the rest of humanity would. It's very lawyerlike. Witt isn't my collar. You representing her? Of course you are," Abe answered himself.
"Not completely true."
"Forty percent true?"
Hardy pretended to be thinking about the answer. "She's David Freeman's but he's in court. He asked me to go make her feel better."
"Which, of course, you did."
Hardy shrugged. "It's a modest talent."
Glitsky seemed to want to follow it up, find out how his friend got even this much involved with this particular client, but he resisted the temptation. He'd no doubt get it sometime. He took the folder over his desk and flipped some pages. "Terrell made the arrest." He craned his neck, checking the room. "Terrell here?" he called out.
"Who's Terrell? Do I know him?"
"OFO," somebody answered.
"Secret police code which I'm not allowed to reveal under penalty of death." He leaned forward, whispering, "Out fucking off." He went back to the report. "You've seen Terrell around. White guy, brown hair, mustache."
"Oh, yeah, him. When I was at school, there was a guy like that."
Glitsky himself was half-Jewish, half-African-American. He stood six feet some, weighed two hundred something and had blue eyes surrounded by a light brown face.
"Terrell's okay," Glitsky said.
"I didn't say anything. I said he was okay."
"I heard a 'but'."
Abe chewed more ice, then spoke quietly. "If God's in the details, Wally and God aren't that close." He leaned back, spoke in a more conversational tone. "He's a big picture guy, only here in homicide, what, a year? Gets and idea, a theory, a vision – I don't know – but it seems to keep him running."
"Isn't that what all you guys do?"
"No. What most of us do is talk to people, collect evidence, maybe some picture starts to form. Wally's a little heavy into motive, and motive only takes you so far. I mean, any victim worth a second look, there's five people with motive to have done him. Wally finds a couple of motives and starts digging around them rather than the other way round."
"So why's he still here?"
"He's been lucky. Twice he's hauled in perps with nothing – Frank wrote him up a reprimand, the second one was so sloppy – and both times, guess what, it turns out he was right. So what are you gonna do, bust him? It'll catch up to him."
Hardy tapped the file. "It might have here."
Abe glanced down, turned a few pages, shook his head. "Doubt it," he said. "Jennifer Witt was righteously arrested. See here? Police reports, witnesses, physical evidence. Plus, as you might have noticed, the public has been introduced to her. She seems like a swell person."
"I thought it might be helpful to talk to Terrell."
Glitsky raised an eyebrow. "I don't know if you remember, but if you're in defense mode, my colleagues here won't tend to view you as an ally."
"Maybe you could vouch for me – you know, character, judgment, taste, generally refined nature. Sometimes everything doesn't make it to the file."
"You shock me." Closing the file, he pushed it back across the desk. "I'll see what I can do, but as always-"
Hardy beat him to it. "Don't hold my breath."
Glitsky nodded. "Words of sublime wisdom," he said.
Although Hardy was not yet legally entitled to it, Art Drysdale had done Hardy the favor of arranging for him to pick up the discovery on the Witt murders, which was basically a copy of the DA's file on the case.
Drysdale, it turned out, had been half-wrong and half-right when he said that Jennifer Witt had left out a few tiny things. Right about leaving out some things, wrong about them being tiny.
They included the testimony of an eyewitness, Anthony Alvarez, a retired fireman with a drawerful of decorations. Sixty-four years old, he lived with his invalid wife directly across the street from the Witts and had heard two shots. If there had only been one, he might have thought it was a backfire and not even bothered to look. As it was, he didn't really suspect shots even after he heard them – it had been more of a curiosity, that kind of noise. He'd gone to the window and seen Jennifer Witt in front of the gate to her house, looking back toward her door. His initial thought was that she had stopped, was wondering about the noises herself. She stayed there a couple of seconds, then began running.
There was also another witness, the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Barbieto, who'd also heard the shots and had been the one who had called the police. Larry and Jennifer Witt had been fighting for weeks, she said. Their son was an unhappy little thing. He cried all the time. The night before, that morning, "You should have heard them on Christmas" (three days before) – it seemed they nearly ruined the Barbieto's family dinner.
Hardy was taking a shotgun approach to his first reading of the file, and had turned right away to the tab marked "Civilian Witnesses." Apparently there were eyewitnesses. From a defense point of view, eyewitnesses were not particularly heartening.
He was sitting on the side of the steps outside the Hall of Justice at 7^th and Bryant. The day was cool and sunny with a light breeze that would probably kick into a gale by five o'clock. Now, though, it was pleasant, even with the bus exhaust and the fast-food wrappers beginning to swirl on the steps.
He turned back to the arresting officer's report. Inspector Terrell had begun to suspect Jennifer after she had provided him with an inventory of items that might have been missing from her home and had omitted the murder weapon. She had carefully searched the house and reported nothing missing. This was before their gun had been found under the dumpster.
After that, Terrell had questioned Jennifer about this oversight and Jennifer had said she must have simply overlooked it, blocked it somehow. Hardy didn't remember this fact from any of the news reports, and it wasn't a good one to find now. He closed the file.
He squinted up into the sun and stood up. A tall man, slightly older than Hardy himself, hovered over him in a light charcoal suit, his hand extended.
Hardy stood and took the hand.
"Just saw you sitting here, Diz. Rumor has it you're defending Jennifer Witt."
"You know rumors, Dean. They never quite get it right." He explained his stand-in status, helping out his landlord, the famous defense attorney David Freeman.
Dean Powell showed a mouthful of teeth. He had a glorious mane of white hair, ruddy skin and an impressive posture. Hardy hadn't wanted to go see Powell earlier and didn't feel particularly prepared to chat with him now. But here he was, smiling and talking.
"Art wanted to warn me early that you had the case. So I'd take it more seriously." Some more teeth to flavor the compliment. "But it's Freeman, huh?" His face clouded briefly. Powell might be nice Hardy and stroke him about what a good job he'd do, but the mention of Freeman moved things up a big notch. Freeman didn't lose too often.
Powell motioned downward. "That her file?"
Hardy patted it. "It seems a little thin on motive for Matt's death – the boy's. I mentioned it to Art and he didn't seem to want to talk about it."
Powell's grin faded. "I'll talk to you about it. The motive was the husband's money. The boy got in the way. Period."
Hardy turned sideways out of the sun's glare. "You really believe that?"
"Do I really believe it? Tell you what, I think it's inherently believable."
"That's not what I asked you."
The Assistant DA ran his hand through the flowing hair. "Do I personally think she shot her boy in cold blood? To tell you the truth, I don't know. We've charged women with that particular crime four times in the last two years, so don't tell me it's just too heinous to even imagine a woman could do that."
Hardy persisted. "I'm saying she, Jennifer, didn't do it. I just spent some time with her upstairs."
"She was sad, was she?" Powell shook his head. "Remember Wanda Hayes, Diz?" He was referring to a highly publicized case from several months earlier. Hardy nodded, he remembered. "Well, Wanda was a real wreck, crying all the time. And she admitted that she killed two of her kids. She said she just kind of lost her temper one day, felt real sad about it."
"Okay, Dean, but-"
"But nothing, Diz. I'm not saying that Jennifer's plan was to kill her son. What she did do, and what we can prove, was that she planned to kill her husband and didn't take the time or whatever else to make sure her son was out of the way. Maybe she was just careless. I don't know and I don't care. The bottom line is the son's dead and she's going down for him, too."
The flash of anger spent, Powell suddenly exhaled, as though surprised at his show of emotion. He reined himself in. "Listen," he said, "I'm just on my way over to Lou's. You feel like a drink?"
Lou's was Lou the Greek's, the local watering hole for the cops and the DAs.
Hardy motioned to the file again, shaking his head. "Another time."
The Assistant DA's face tightened. Powell was said to be considering a run for State Attorney General in this year's special election and he had obviously been working on his public moves – this invitation for a drink had the ring of sincerity, for example – but it put Hardy on guard. Powell was saying that, as Hardy knew, one of the duties of the prosecutor was to provide full and free disclosure to the defense team. "You know, you might want to drop by Art's again. We don't want you to have any surprises."
Hardy squinted, moved to the side. This was unusual. "I just got the file an hour ago."
"Yes, well, Art and I discussed the case after you stopped by and we decided it would be better to lay it all out at the beginning. Like I said, we don't want any surprises."
Powell's face took on a serious expression. "You haven't seen the indictment yet. We charged Mrs. Witt with a third count of murder."
"What third murder?"
"Her first husband died of a suspected drug overdose nine years ago. Did you know that? I don't know how the media hasn't come up with this yet but I'm sure they will."
Hardy stood still as a pole. He wondered whether his once-upon-a-time friend Art Drysdale had deliberately given him only half of the discovery – there wasn't really any legal advantage in doing so, but Drysdale had been know to mess with defense lawyers just to keep them off balance. It was a good reminder for Hardy – he really was on the other side.
"In any event," Powell went on, "Inspector Terrell, the arresting officer? He's been pushing for exhumation and got it through with Strout." This, was John Strout, the coroner. "It seems Mrs. Witt made a small bundle on that death, too. Something like seventy-five thousand dollars, which back then was a reasonable piece of change. Terrell found out she was dating a dentist when Ned – that was husband number one – bought it. Dating this dentist while they were still married? Bad form. Anyway, when Ned died it looked like an overdose – so the coroner ran the A scan, found coke and alcohol and ruled it an accidental overdose."
Hardy knew the medical examiner ran three levels of tests to scan for poisons in dead people. Level C included a lot more controlled substances – barbiturates, methamphetamines – then the check for volatiles – essentially alcohols – that turned up on a Level A scan, but it also cost a lot more to run, and when the apparent cause of death was found at the A level, unless there was an investigator's report indicating foul play, the coroner most often stopped there.
Hardy knew all this but he had to ask: "He didn't check for anything else?"
"Why would he? They found what they were looking for, coke and booze in an overdose situation… hell, you know. And Ned had 'em both, so the book got closed. But guess what?"
"I can't imagine." Hardy was feeling numb.
"Atropine. Jimson weed. Deadly nightshade."
"What about it?"
"Atropine is what killed him. We exhumed him on Terrell's hunch and there it was."
"So he OD'd on atropine."
Powell shook his head. "You don't just OD on atropine. Atropine doesn't make you high. It's not a recreational drug, but Ned was loaded with the stuff."
"That's not necessarily murder-"
"I think in connection with these latest two it is."
"She didn't do these either."
Powell favored Hardy with one of his world-weary looks, which said okay, that's a defense attorney's answer about his client, but between us two professionals we know the truth. What he said was: "Your Mrs. Witt's a black widow, Hardy. We're going for Murder One on these. A death sentence. This is a capital case."
"You can't be serious…"
The color was gone from Jennifer's face. She simply hung her head, then after a beat shook herself, stood and walked over to the window in the visitor's room, through which she stared out into the guard's office. "Ned killed himself, maybe by mistake… But somebody else killed Larry and Matt. I swear to God… I couldn't have killed my little boy."
Hardy noticed she didn't say the same about her husband. He sat with his shoulders hunched over, fingers locked together on the table in front of him. "Tell me about Anthony Alvarez," he said.
She combed her bangs back with her fingers, twice, still facing the window. "I don't know any Anthony Alvarez…"
Hardy kept his voice low. "The police report identifies him as your neighbor, lives across the street."
Now she turned. "Mr. Alvarez? Oh, that's Anthony Alvarez? I never knew his first name. What about him?"
"What about him is that he's a lot of the reason you're here." Hardy told her the gist of his testimony. While he talked she returned to the end of the table and sat again, kitty-corner to Hardy.
"But I didn't do that. I always start out by walking a couple of blocks to warm up. I wouldn't have just shut the gate and started out running. Not only wouldn't have, I didn't."
Hardy nodded. "Why do you think he says it was you? You have any words with him, anything like that?"
"I don't believe this." Jennifer inhaled, shook herself, let it out in a sigh. "Maybe in four years I've said a hundred words to the man. I don't think I'd recognize him if he wasn't standing near his house. Why is he doing this to me?"
"I don't know," Hardy said, "but for now I think we'd better concentrate on something that could help you. Was there anybody that might have seen you walking? Another neighbor?"
Jennifer shut her eyes, leaning back in her chair, revealing the curve of her body, the plane of her cheek. Hardy suddenly realized how attractive she was, even in the jail garb. Pouty lips, a strong nose. Bones well-limned.
"I passed a man," she said, eyes still closed. "An older guy, maybe black or Mexican, dark anyway."
"I read about him." Hardy sat forward now. "I don't think he's going to fly."
"What do you mean?" I did see somebody. I think it was, I mean it could have been the person…"
Hardy was shaking his head. She reached a hand across the table to him. "No, no. No, listen. It was the week after Christmas, no traffic, no one around, and here's this man walking up the street, he's wearing this heavy trenchcoat, looking like he's checking house numbers. I almost stop and ask can I help him but I didn't want to be late so I keep going by." She stopped talking, staring at Hardy. "It really could have been him, the one… I mean, somebody had to do it…"
"Did you notice if this man had a gun?"
"No, I'd have-"
"Do you have any idea why somebody who didn't know Larry personally would want to kill him? Or your son?"
Her eyes stared into the space between them. "If you find a yes to any questions like these, Jennifer, then we can usefully talk about him again, but I'm afraid he isn't going to do us any good right now."
"But it might-"
"When it does," Hardy said, "then we'll look at it. Okay? I promise."
Hardy reminded himself that he wasn't here to upset her. He had felt, though, he should tell her they were going capital. It was still going to be essentially Freeman's case but it wouldn't hurt to collect more impressions of Jennifer. "Let's go on to anything else about that morning, anybody else who might have seen you."
"But that man, he might have been…"
Hardy patted her hand, held it down on the table. "Let's move on, okay?"
She pulled her hand away. "You've got to believe me, I didn't do this. If it was that man…"
"If it was that man," he said. "There could have been somebody, all right, he might even have shot Larry, but he also might be anybody – a neighbor, a tourist, a guy just taking a walk."
She glared at him. "He had his hands in his pockets, both hands. He might have been holding a gun."
Hardy almost said, Forgetting, of course, that your husband was killed with your own gun. He slowed himself down. "Let's stop. Look, we're not here to argue. We'll come back to the man later. For now we've got to leave him, he's not going to help us unless he lives near you and we can find him. Now I'm trying to find something to hang your defense on, and he's just not it."
Her face went all the way down to the table, within the circle of her arms. Her body was shaking as she rolled her forehead back and forth.
"Did you do anything unusual at all on your run? Anything you might already have told the police? Or forgotten to tell them?"
She stopped the rocking. As though struggling with its weight, she raised her head, sighing again. "They didn't ask any questions like this," she said. "I didn't think… I mean, I didn't know they thought I was a suspect. They misled me, they never asked any of this."
Hardy said quietly, "I'm asking now, all right? Let's try to get something."
Jennifer nodded, then recalled that she had stopped at the automatic teller at her bank on Haight Street. Which seemed odd to Hardy. "You left to go running and happened to have your ATM card with you?"
"What's so strange about that?" And she explained that most of her running outfits had Velcro pockets and as a matter of course she grabbed her house key and her change wallet – in which she kept her ATM card – whenever she left the house. She told Hardy that on that morning she had walked down her block, passed the man in the trenchcoat, started running for a couple of blocks, then stopped for cash – "It was the Monday after Christmas, we hadn't been to the bank for three days."
At least it was someplace to start.
In some ways Hardy's involvement with Jennifer Witt was easier to explain to the client than it was going to be to his wife.
After the successful conclusion of his first murder trial – defending former Superior Court Judge Andy Fowler – Hardy had been surprised to find himself something of a property in the small world that was San Francisco's legal community. Trial lawyers – men and women who were good on their feet in front of a jury – were, it seemed, in great demand. Even in the large corporate firms, the final outcome of all the work done by offices full of bean counters and number crunchers, library rats, technical brief writers and legal strategists, paralegals and lesser staff often came down on the shoulders of the person in the firm who could convincingly present it all in front of a judge or jury or both.
Since most corporate attorneys rarely if ever saw the inside of a courtroom, many firms hired trial lawyers the way baseball teams purchased designated hitters – the role was limited, but if it came up it was far preferable to having the pitcher come to the plate with the game on the line.
Because of the sensational nature of Judge Fowler's trial and of Hardy's own role as an unknown, underdog, first-time defense attorney, it seemed that Hardy had unwittingly been auditioning for half the firms in the Bay Area. When the verdict came down in his client's favor, his phone had started ringing.
Another event that had coincided with the end of Fowler's trial had been the birth of Hardy's and Frannie's son, Vincent. So for the first month Hardy had begged off many of the interviews, pleading his new fatherhood, Frannie's desire to have him at home for a while.
Now, three months later, he had visited eleven firms, riding elevators to plush offices in his only three-piece suit, going out to fine lunches with men and women with whom he felt no connection whatever – nice people, sure; smart, well-turned out, confident, financially secure, socially aware, all of the above. But no one to whom he was drawn as a human being.
Seven of the firms had offered him positions, with salaries ranging from a low of $83,000 to a high (Engle, Matthews amp; Jones) of $115,000. All of the offers put him well onto the partner track, crediting him with up to six years of previous service. This meant that within, at the most, another three years (and at the least, one), he would become a partner in any of the seven firms and could expect annual compensation in the realm of $300,000 to $500,000.
Frannie had brought an insurance settlement to their marriage. Hardy, aside from the fees in the Fowler trial that had run to low six figures, owned a one-quarter interest in the Little Shamrock bar. Their house payment was under six-hundred dollars a month. So Frannie and Hardy were not hurting. Nevertheless, the kind of money the big firms were waving in his face was not pocket change, was even tempting.
Their house in the Avenues was already, with the addition of the two children, starting to feel pinched. The could see moving up; they'd even discussed it casually after Hardy had received the first couple of invitations. It had become more or less understood that Hardy would choose one of the firms, get a linear job, be an adult.
But he just hadn't been ready to commit to any of the firms – something better might come up, some people he felt better about being associated with. So in the interim he borrowed an empty office and paid a nominal rent in the building owned by David Freeman, which was where he had been, essentially twiddling his thumbs, when David Freeman himself had called up with the Jennifer Witt referral.
"It's probably going to be a fair amount of money," Hardy said.
"But it's another case. It's not a job."
"And I'm not even really on it. It's Freeman's case."
"But there's something here for you."
Hardy's hands, crossed in front of him at the table, came open. "Maybe. There might be."
Frannie was trying to understand, and he couldn't blame her for being a little upset. He might argue to himself, and tell her that he wasn't really changing the basic plan they'd discussed, but they both know that wasn't true. Working as a member of a defense team in one potentially lucrative case was not even remotely comparable to going to work as a senior associate in one of the city's prestige law firms, and Frannie wasn't being conned by it.
"It's a case that lasts a year, maybe two. Who knows, that could be as long as any of the jobs last, Frannie. Life's uncertain."
Frannie rolled her green eyes, as if she had to be told that.
Hardy pressed on. "Mrs. Witt is worth a couple million dollars, maybe more…"
"Which the insurance company isn't going to release to her now that she's charged with the murders."
It was a point he had hoped she wouldn't raise. "Stranger things have happened." He tried a grin. "They might."
"Do me a favor, would you, Dismas? Find out? You owe us that much."
Dinner finished, both kids asleep, they were sitting across the dining room table from each other, finishing the last of their red wine with chocolate candies on the side – Frannie's latest culinary discovery that had addicted them both. A brace of nearly burned-out candles sputtered with fitful light.
Frannie sighed. "You don't want to work for anybody, do you?" She held up a hand, cutting off his response. "If you don't, that's okay, but we shouldn't talk about it as if you do."
"It's not that."
"I bet it is. You call all these people who've been interviewing you corporate rats. I think the phrase betrays a certain prejudice."
Hardy popped a chocolate, sipped some wine. "I really don't know what it is. This thing with Jennifer Witt just walked into my life this morning. What am I supposed to do? Freeman has asked me to help. He'll take over in the morning."
"But you are interested, aren't you?"
"No commitments," he said. "But yes, it's interesting. I looked at the file."
"You mean the file you couldn't get your nose out of, that you seem to have memorized?"
Hardy gave up. "Yeah, that file."
"And what if she did it?" Frannie was grabbing at straws and knew it.
Hardy sat back. "She still has the right to an attorney."
Frannie gave him a look. "What's that got to do with you?"
"I'm an attorney."
They both laughed, the tension broken a little. One of the candles gave up the ghost, a wisp of smoke rising straight in the still room.
Frannie reached a hand across the table and took her husband's. "Look. You know I'm with you. I just want you to be sure you're doing something you'll be happy with. This isn't just one case, you know. If you take this one, that's what you're going to be doing, taking cases. Maybe defending people all the time."
Hardy had once been a cop, and on two separate occasions he had worked in the District Attorney's office. Frannie was of the opinion that if anyone was born and bred to the prosecution, it was her husband. She had heard his tirades against and/or scornful dismissal of defense attorneys, the "ambulance chasers," the "pond scum who took anybody for their fee up-front.
"It doesn't have to be sleazy," Hardy said.
Frannie smiled at him. "I just wonder if that's the life you want."
"The life I want is with you."
She squeezed his hand. "You know what I mean."
He knew what she meant. It worried him some, too. But he knew if David Freeman asked him to help with Jennifer Witt, in almost any capacity, and off the top of his head he could think of several, he was going to do it. Which meant he wasn't pursuing any of his job possibilities. Which, in turn, meant…
He didn't know.
The other candle went out. "Let's leave the dishes," he said.
San Francisco's Hall of Justice, located near – almost under – the 101 Freeway at the corner of 7^th and Bryant, is a gray monolith of staggering impersonality. Its lower stories house various City and County departments, including police, coroner, the office of the District Attorney, and courtrooms and jury-selection waiting rooms. The jail on the sixth and seventh floors is administered by the San Francisco County Sheriff, as opposed to the City's police department. Behind the building, a new jail is slowly rising in what used to be a parking lot.
Hardy entered through the back entrance, was cleared through the metal detector and, deciding to bypass the slowest elevator in America, ascended to the third floor by the stairway and into the familiar bedlam that reigned in the wide hallway.
Aside from the usual circus, this morning's sideshow featured a convention of perhaps twenty gypsies. Uniformed policemen were remonstrating with several women about their use of a Butagas container to heat their coffee in the hallway. Hardy first wondered how they had managed to het a portable gas container through the metal detectors, then watched for a while, fascinated as he often was by the raffish melange one encountered almost daily between these institutional green walls.
It seemed to be a reasonable discussion – no one, yet, was raising any voices. But neither had the flame gone out under the coffeepot. While one woman tended to the argument, another was pouring liquid into small porcelain cups and passing it to some men, who put lumps of sugar into their mouths before they began sipping.
"They should set up a TV camera and run this hall live." It was David Freeman, rumpled as usual in a cheap rack suit, looking like he hadn't slept in a week. "Probably pull a thirty share."
Hardy gestured around them. "You'd need a commentator to explain what's happening. Like here" – he pointed – "it's a little ambiguous."
Freeman considered it. "The host is a good idea. Maybe we could have the judges rotate, like they do the calendar. 'This week on calendar we've go Marian Braun, and here in the hallway, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, LIVE, IT'S JUDGE OSCAR THOMASINO!'"
They started toward Department 22, the courtroom where Jennifer Witt was to be arraigned in an hour, which was all the time Freeman was going to take getting filled in on the case. No sense wasting it. "How's it look?" he asked.
"They're talking capital."
"Capital. Powell ought to go and stand in the witness row outside the gas chamber a few times, mellow him out a little."
"I think Powell might like it."
Freeman thought that was debatable. He had witnessed six executions in several states – no sane person could like it and he did not think Powell was insane. Not even close.
"Well, they've got special circumstances two ways – multiple murders and killing for profit. You know they're alleging three counts?"
Like Hardy, Freeman was surprised to learn of the last count against Jennifer, murdering her first husband Ned Hollis nine years earlier. "That's digging pretty deep, wouldn't you say?"
"You better read the file."
They got to the twelve-foot solid wood double doors that led into Judge Oscar Thomasino's courtroom, Department 22.
"At least they've got a case. It's not frivolous. But she says she didn't do it."
Freeman pushed his way through the doors. "Well, there's a first."
"Maybe she didn't."
"Maybe," Freeman agreed. "On the other hand, maybe not." In the high-ceilinged empty courtroom, even whispers echoed. Dismas Hardy and David Freeman sat in the last pew, a long, hard, cold bench of light-colored wood. Freeman, legs crossed, unlit cigar in his mouth, was starting to peruse the file, pulling papers and folders from Hardy's extra-wide briefcase.
"You're heartening to talk to. Anybody ever told you that?"
Freeman shrugged, scanning pages. "My clients love me. Why? I get them off. Do I think they're guilty? Do I care? Probably – to both questions. Most of the time."
"Most of the time you think they're guilty?"
Now Freeman looked up. "Most of the time they are guilty, Diz. Our job's to get them off, so that's what I try to do."
"Well," Hardy said, "I found myself very much wanting to believe her. She was torn up, crying, really a wreck."
"Over her loss, or over being caught?" Freeman marked his reading place with a finger. "I know, I know, I'm cruel and cynical. But tears fall for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is self-pity, and when someone's sitting in jail, believe me, they get to feeling very sorry for themselves. It can seriously tear a person up, I've seen it happen." He went back to reading, turned a few pages, stopped.
"She's attractive, right?"
"The file says twenty-eight."
"Twenty-eight's young, okay. Humor me on this one." Freeman himself was perhaps fifty-five. Hardy thought he didn't look a day over eighty. "Okay, so she's young and attractive and crying – of course, you want to believe her. And guess what? She knows you want to believe her. Whether or not she did these horrible things to her husbands, she's aware of the effect crying has on a normal red-blooded male such as yourself. And that effect is… you want to believe her, want to make her feel better. You want more than anything to get her to stop crying, don't you?"
Freeman took the cigar from his mouth, spit out some leaf, reinserted it. "And while we're at it," he said, "tell me honestly. This is my personal public-opinion poll. She do it, or not?"
"I don't know. I leaning to not."
"None of it?"
"I don't know."
"What part of it don't you know?"
"The boy… Matt. And if she didn't kill him, the rest of it falls apart, doesn't it?"
"You don't think she killed her kid?"
"I don't see it."
"Why? And don't tell me you don't think she's the type."
"Well, two reasons," Hardy said. "One, she didn't just deny it; I thought she seemed genuinely stunned that anybody could think she'd done it. She didn't even want to talk about it, David. I mean, she acted like it was all a weird mistake that would get cleared up. As for killing her own son, how could anybody believe that?"
"Diz, Diz. Let's just, for argument's sake, say she did it. And if she did it, it was for the insurance money. We agree here? Good. Okay. This is a high-risk position, deciding to kill somebody. People do it all the time, but people who do it for money, they're a different breed. Jennifer Witt decides in cold blood to do this deed, she's sure as hell not going to admit it. She's taken a risk – already taken it – and she's going to get the whole banana or go down in flames. Believe it. Now, what's the other reason?"
Hardy had said there were two reasons he thought Jennifer might not have done it – Freeman had given an argument refuting the first and now wanted the second. "I just don't think she's the type?"
Freeman went back to reading. "I charge by the hour," he said, "and I don't charge enough."
Hardy accepted the reprimand in good humor. "Take out the son Matt and the case doesn't look very strong against her."
"We can't take out Matt. Matt was there, Diz. I wish to hell he hadn't been, but that's what we got. Powell's not going to let it go – it's what's putting our girl face-to-face with the gas chamber. It will influence a judge."
Hardy had had this discussion before. Even if Jennifer did kill her husband Larry, and Hardy was not convinced of that, he was at least certain that Matt's death had somehow been an accident, a random, tragic wild card. But now that card, like it or not, had been dealt to them. It was their hand and they had to play it. "I still think the right jury could walk her," he said.
"The right jury could walk Attila the Hun. But don't count on it in this case."
Freeman leaned forward, put an avuncular hand on Hardy's shoulder. For not the first time, Hardy marveled that Freeman was so successful and even downright likeable. As always, he needed a shave. His lips were thick and purplish. His rheumy eyes had yellowish whites, the skin around them flecked with liver spots. He was handsome as a leprous warthog, if warthogs got leprosy. "The smart money doesn't put too much on the jury. If I go along with believing she's innocent, you know, I actually hurt her chances. You realize that?"
"How do you do that?"
Freeman looked around the empty room, making sure no one was eavesdropping. "It's a tightrope walk. You want to convince yourself that you're defending an innocent person – that much is all right, it's part of it. But if you actually start to believe that your client is innocent, you're going to assume that the jury's going to see what you see. You'll convince yourself that they want to believe you, your interpretations of the facts."
Hardy picked it up. "And those arguments, because you didn't have to make them to yourself, just aren't going to be as strong."
"See, Diz, I do believe you've got a knack for this business." Freeman moved his cigar around. "If the matter gets to a jury, your client's already in big trouble and it behooves you to take it as seriously as you can."
"I do take it seriously, David. You asked me if I think, gut level, that she did it. At the least, I'm saying I'm not sure the case is that strong-"
"That why they're going capital? That why Powell's got it, with his political ambitions? He maybe needs the practice in court? I doubt it."
Hardy couldn't help smiling. "You've got to learn how to express your feelings, David. It's going to eat you up someday, holding it all in."
Freeman nodded. "I know. I'm trying. They'd mind if I lit up in here, wouldn't they?"
Freeman was sitting under the international no-smoking symbol.
"I'd bet on it," Hardy said.
"I was assuming all along you'd be a part of it, to tell you the truth."
Hardy had not decided on a precise strategy to introduce the subject of his continued involvement in Jennifer Witt's defense, but as was so often the case with David Freeman, the question got preempted.
In California, all death penalty trials had two phases before the same jury – guilt and penalty. In practice, the lawyer in the guilt phase never stays on to do the penalty phase. Juries got cynical about a person when first they argued passionately that their client didn't do it and – once it was established that yes, they did, too – then turn around and say, in effect, Okay, so my client did it. I know I said it wasn't so, but I lied. But at least now let's talk about what a nice person my client is and why execution would be really too strong…
So, to avoid this appearance of inconsistency, there was also always a penalty-phase attorney, commonly called the "Keenan counsel," and it was this role Freeman had now asked Hardy to take should Jennifer be found guilty and it came to that. "Assuming, of course, that she can pay." He seemed serious when he said it.
Jennifer Witt had the right to counsel, but if she did not have the personal funds to cover the costs – and in a capital case they would be enormous – the court would appoint a public defender. And even if the public defender claimed some kind of conflict of interest, there was no guarantee that Freeman and Hardy would be appointed.
Freeman, of course, was a long-standing court-approved defense lawyer, but Hardy had not yet even applied for the list, and in any event, with this kind of case at stake, the other vultures would be circling. This looked like it was going to become a high-profile case – the very best advertisement in the business. But if Freeman and Hardy were going to defend Jennifer, she, personally, was going to have to pay them. No getting around it.
"And I'll tell you something else," Freeman said. "This is Private Practice 101. I don't care if your client is Mother Theresa, you get your money up-front." He seemed very serious. And it bothered Hardy.
The clerk entered from the front of the courtroom talking with the court reporter. They started setting up their work areas, organizing, talking in low voices. In the gallery, what looked to be some of the other attorneys had arrived – Freeman nodded to a few of them. Non-lawyers, perhaps relatives of defendants or victims, were beginning to straggle in.
This was Superior Court. People coming before the judge in this courtroom were not here for traffic tickets. Hardy left Freeman reading the file and stood, wandering up to the rail that separated the gallery from the principals.
The prosecutor Dean Powell tapped him on the shoulder. "I kind of expected you this morning."
"I thought I mentioned that David Freeman's got this one, Dean. There he is back there, doing calisthenics." Freeman was pulling on an ear, studying, oblivious to the world. "I'm mostly along for the ride."
"Freeman decide on a defense?"
"No, but Jennifer has. It's you r favorite."
"Not guilty? No insanity? Justifiable, even?"
"Mrs. Witt says she did not do any of it."
Powell nodded, poker-faced. But Hardy had the sense that he was delighted. "Yes, she did," he said.
Judge Oscar Thomasino, short brush-cut hair and swarthy complexion, had a no-nonsense demeanor in the courtroom over which he had presided for ten years. He had come in this morning with another of the surprises that marked life behind the rail.
"Before we begin today," he said, "is there someone in this courtroom driving a Green Chevy Lumina license number 1NCV722?"
An Hispanic male in his mid-twenties raised his hand and stood up in the third row of the gallery. Thomasino motioned him up through the bar rail. Reluctantly, the man complied, and the judge frowned down at him. "Did you happen to notice, sir, the large sign in the space you took outside that read Reserved for Presiding Judge?"
The young man bobbed and half-turned around, looking to the gallery for support. "Aw, come on, I'm in trouble now because I took your parking space?"
"Not precisely," Thomasino said, "although that's part of it. Your big problem is that the car is stolen." Thomasino directed the bailiff to take the man into custody. They would figure out what to do with him upstairs. The car had been towed to the City lot.
Hardy was still chuckling about it when they called Jennifer's line – her computer number. Hardy and Freeman then came through the bar rail. Dean Powell and a fresh-faced young assistant moved over from the jury box, and Jennifer Witt was brought out to the podium that faced the judge. Hardy thought that Jennifer, beaten down and deflated, looked very much like a defendant, but the jumpsuit could do that to Cindy Crawford. He introduced her to Freeman.
She took in her ragged attorney with something less than enthusiasm – a reaction he was accustomed to. She made a face at Hardy – this is my lawyer? – then faced the judge. As in all murder cases, the clerk read out the complete indictment.
"Jennifer Lee Witt, you are charged by indictment with three felony counts filed herein, to wit, violations of Section 187 of the Penal Code in that you did, in the City and County of San Francisco, State of California, on or about the 31^st day of August, 1993, willfully, unlawfully, and with malice aforethought murder Edward Teller Hollis." The clerk read the special circumstances, going on to add the charges regarding Larry and Matt Witt. When he had finished, Thomasino nodded toward the podium and said he assumed by the presence of Messrs. Freeman and Hardy that Jennifer was represented by counsel. He asked Jennifer how she was going to plead.
"Not guilty, Your Honor."
Making a note on his printout, Thomasino looked over his reading glasses, which were slightly tinted and half-moon shaped. "Mr. Powell. The people seek to deny bail?"
Powell stood up. "We do, Your Honor. This is a special circumstances case. The allegations are multiple murders and murder for profit. The defendant has already killed-"
"Your Honor!" Freeman was not having any of this. To date, it was not established that Jennifer had killed anybody. That was, after all, what this was about.
The judge scowled down at the prosecutor. "Mr. Powell, please."
Powell put on a show of contrition, but wasted no time getting the needle in.
"I'm sorry, Your Honor. But this is a death penalty case. The law provides that this defendant should be held without bail. Further, the People believe there is substantial risk of flight."
Freeman came back matter-of-fact. "Your Honor, Mrs. Witt will surrender her passport. She has never been accused, much less convicted, of any crime. There is no basis in Mrs. Witt's history or in fact for the prosecution's contention that there is a risk of flight. She has stayed in the City since December, and she must have had some inkling that she was under suspicion during that time. She did not resist arrest."
"All right, all right." Thomasino peered over his glasses. "Nevertheless, Mr. Freeman, at that time she was not yet charged with any crime, let alone three counts of capital murder. We've got a different situation now, wouldn't you agree?"
"Your Honor, Mrs. Witt did not commit these crimes and she is anxious to clear her name in court."
Thomasino almost smiled. "Yes. Well, she will get that opportunity, but I'm inclined to agree with the People that, facing the possibility of the death penalty she might at least be tempted to forgo that opportunity. And without any remaining ties to the community and no immediate family-"
"Your Honor!" Jennifer's voice was a surprise to everyone in the courtroom. Defendants were, after all, usually so intimidated by these proceedings, by being referred to in their own presence in the third person, that it rarely occurred to them that they could actually speak up themselves. Jennifer did. "I do have family here today."
Hardy turned around. In the second row a graying man who might have been Thomasino's brother was halfway to his feet. Another younger man looked as though he was thinking about getting up, too. Between the two sat a middle-aged woman.
Hardy also noticed something pass between Jennifer and a well-dressed bearded man a few rows farther back in the gallery. Who was he? And why didn't Jennifer make some kind of friendly gesture to her own father, brother, mother? She pointed them out to Thomasino in hopes that they might help her win bail, but she didn't so much as nod to any of them.
Thomasino recovered quickly. "All right, thank you. You folks back there, please be seated."
"If it please the court." Dean Powell was on his feet. "I'd like to ask Mrs. Witt about the last time she saw her family."
"Your Honor, please!" Hardy was sure that, like himself, Freeman had no idea what Powell was talking about, but he wasn't going to let such a request go unchallenged. They were a long way from trial here, and questioning the defendant was out of line.
"What are you getting at, Mr. Powell?"
"Your Honor, in the course of our investigation it's become clear that Mrs. Witt is not at all close to her family. In fact, they have been estranged-"
Freeman, from the hip, shot out. "And that's why they're here today, Dean?"
The gavel slapped down. "Mr. Freeman, you will address all your remarks to the court. Clear?"
"Of course, Your Honor, I'm sorry." Like most of Freeman's moves, this one was calculated. Get off a losing point, direct attention anywhere else, even if it got him a contempt warning. And taking Thomasino's reprimand gave him another few moments to think of something else. "But Mr. Powell should know better. Mrs. Witt's family is here today, obviously supporting her. What more do we need?"
Thomasino waved him down, cradling his hands over his gavel. "Mrs. Witt, your family's presence here is noted, but it doesn't change the law. This is a no bail case."
"Your Honor…" Freeman, one last time.
But Thomasino had had enough. The gavel came up with a judicial glare. He tapped it gently, then intoned, "Bail is denied."
In the hallway outside of Department 22 the gypsies had disappeared but there was still the usual hum of voices echoing off the bare walls.
"How can they not let her get bail?" Jennifer's father, Phil DiStephano, was saying. He was in Freeman's face, not exactly belligerent but certainly not cordial.
"We could appeal," Freeman said, "but I warn you, we'll lose. And even if we won, the judge would set an outrageously high bail."
The attractive Mrs. DiStephano spoke up quietly from behind her husband. "How much, Mr. Freeman?"
Phil DiStephano turned on his wife. "It doesn't matter, Nancy. It's out of our league." From appearances, it seemed he was right. Regardless of what bail turned out to be, if in fact they won an appeal, the DiStephanos didn't look like they would be able to pay it.
Phil wore a plain black suit that showed no sign of having been recently pressed, a white shirt, ironed but not new, a thin tie. The mother's clothes, though not the rest of her, reminded Hardy of Pat Nixon during the Checkers Speech. She was attractive enough – still, some might say, even beautiful, like her daughter – but something in her bearing, in the pinch of her lips, conveyed that her life hadn't been easy. The son, perhaps twenty-three, wore jeans, work boots, longish hair, a tucked-in Pendleton, and an attitude.
A working-class family, and it surprised Hardy a little. Jennifer had never been portrayed in the media as anything less than upper class, and in Hardy's interviews yesterday she had come across – even in her prison garb and through her grief – as the comfortably off successful doctor's wife. Her family suggested different roots.
When Freeman went on to tell them they could expect bail of a million dollars, or more, if they got it at all, the son exploded. "Where the fuck she supposed to get that?"
Freeman held up a calming hand. "Exactly, son. The point is they don't want her to get out. They think she'll take a long walk and disappear."
"I don't think she will. She has a very solid defense." The man who belonged to the new voice moved forward, hand out to Freeman. "Ken Lightner." As though the name explained something. He added, "I'm Jennifer's psychiatrist."
It was the other man Hardy had noticed in the gallery. Reasonably good-looking, somewhat burly even in his tailored suit, Lightner sported a well-trimmed red beard under a head of dark brown hair. It was a striking combination that Hardy thought might come out of a bottle.
"What's Jenny need a shrink for?" Tom DiStephano said.
Nancy DiStephano put a hand on her son's arm as Lightner stepped in. "You must be Tom."
"No. I'm the Queen of England."
She stepped between them. "Don't be rude, Tom."
Hardy wondered if Tom DiStephano was in enough control of himself to be anything – even rude – on purpose. Whatever the source of his anger, it was pretty clearly eating him up. He looked about, around the hallway, as though searching for an exit, an escape. His mother still held onto his arm, but he shook it off and turned to Hardy. "Are you guys trying to get her off as crazy? Is that the deal? You think she's crazy?"
"No, not at all." Lightner seemed to be striving for an understanding tone, trying to include everybody.
But this was Freeman's show and he was not about to hand the lead away. "We haven't decided on a defense," he said. "Jennifer is innocent until she's proved guilty. I trust we're all in agreement here?"
It was a multi-layered tableau – anger, positioning, concern, grief, power. Brother Tom was at the center of it, perhaps slightly defused, but Hardy hoped nobody picked that moment to push him further. He would lose it.
Now, though, with no one to direct his anger toward, Tom stood there flexing his hands, feet flat on the floor, breathing hard. "Well," he paused, looking for an answer to something in the broad and echoing linoleum hallway, in the high ceilings. "Well, just shit."
"We'll all need to handle this," Lightner said. "This is a very trying situation and it's certainly okay to get angry, we all get angry…"
Hardy glanced at Freeman. All professions had their jargon. It probably passed for normal conversation in Lightner's set. But Nancy cared neither about anger or jargon. "They're not really going to ask for the…" she couldn't say death penalty… "for my daughter, are they?" She was close to tears, gripping her husband's hand.
Hardy thought he would take some of the focus away from Freeman, spread the pressure around. "We're a long way from even getting to a trial, Mrs. DiStephano, much less a verdict and a penalty. We don't have to worry about that yet-"
"We damn well better worry about it," Tom said. "We don't take care of it now, it's going to happen."
"Tom, you know something I don't?" Hardy said.
Now with a direction, Tom let it go. "Yeah, I know something. I know people like us don't get a fair trial, that's what I know. Not against them."
"Not against who? What people like you?"
"Poor people, working people, goddamn it. Against the people who have money."
"Jennifer's got some money, Tom," Phil said.
"It's not her money, Pop, and you know it. It's Larry's money. That's what this is all about, and the rest is all just bullshit! They want their money back."
"Who does?" Hardy asked.
"They're not letting her in. She just doesn't fit, does she? Just like we don't, like Larry cut us out. Except Jen tried to crash her way in, didn't she? Married her fancy doctor. Drove her fancy car. Tried to be one of them. And they don't forgive you for that, do they? They go get you for that…"
"Nobody's trying to get her, Tom-"
"Mom, you don't see. You buy their crap. That's what's kept us down-"
"Tom, stop it!" Phil stepped between his son and his wife but Tom now turned it on him. "Oh yeah, sure. And you'll take anything, Pop, won't you?"
It happened in an instant. Phil's hand flashed and rocked his son, hard, open-palmed, high on the cheek. The noise resounded in the hallway. "Don't dare use that tone with me!"
The men were squared off, Nancy now between them. She had started crying. Tom backed up, glaring at his parents. "Aw, screw it," he said finally, turning, running off down the hallway.
His mother turned to the two attorneys. "I'm sorry for my son. He thinks the world…" She let it hang, tears in her eyes.
This was the moment. Defenses were down. Freeman figured he could use it. He went after Phil. "Did you see Jennifer often, Mr. DiStephano? I mean, do you visit each other?"
"Well, sure. She's my daughter, isn't she? We're all close, even Tom… he's just got a hot head. Like you said in there, it's why we're here today."
Freeman turned to Mrs. DiStephano.
She shook her head. "We haven't seen them in years."
Phil tried to put a face on it. "Hey, Larry was a busy man. It wasn't that he didn't-"
Nancy cut him off. "Larry wouldn't let her. We never saw any of them. Never."
Hardy, Freeman and Lightner watched Jennifer's mother walk off stiffly, a step behind her husband. A young couple emerged from one of the doors behind them, hugging and laughing – maybe Thomasino had just given one of them a break.
Freeman, Mr. Small Talk, turned to the psychiatrist Lightner: "So what's her defense, Doctor?"
Relaxed, hands in his pockets, Lightner didn't have to think about it. He nodded up the hall after Jennifer's parents. "Slightly dysfunctional, wouldn't you say? I'd kind of expect it."
"You'd kind of expect it," Hardy repeated. They started moving through the crowd, toward the elevators. Hardy and Freeman were going upstairs to see Jennifer, find out if they had a client.
Lightner was nodding. "You just saw an object lesson. It's generational, you know. Father batters mother and children. Children go on to batter their own-"
"Who's battering who?" Freeman asked.
Lightner stopped. "No, no… I mean, Larry, of course."
"Larry was battering Jennifer?" This was news to Hardy. Probably to Freeman. Perhaps not to Powell. In any event, Jennifer hadn't mentioned it.
Freeman was a step ahead of them. "If you're talking burning bed, I think the boy is a problem there."
The "burning bed" had been gaining a good deal of momentum in legal circles as a valid defense for killing. When a spouse had been battered long enough, juries in several cases had decided that killing the abusive spouse was justified as a form of self-defense, even if the actual event took place during a period of relative calm, as for example when the abuser was asleep. This was far beyond the usual legal standard for self-defense, when the person being attacked was in imminent danger of being killed.
"Why is Matt a problem?" Lightner asked.
"Because battered wives don't kill their children," Freeman said. "If she was a battered wife."
"She was. And it might have been unintentional, if it happened while she was defending herself."
"That would be a tough sell to a jury," Freeman said.
"You think she did it?" Hardy asked abruptly.
For the first time, Lightner appeared to think carefully about an answer. "She had reason to," he said.
Hardy didn't like this. Another person, not even in the prosecution's loop, with the so-called informed opinion that his client "had reason" to kill her husband. "Because her husband abused her?"
"Not, of course, that having a reason means she did it," Lightner was quick to add.
Hardy squared around on the psychiatrist. "What exactly are you saying?"
"I'm certainly not saying she did it, Mr. Hardy. I am saying you perhaps ought to read the literature. People become crazed in the situation Jennifer was in. Understandably so. I'm saying that if that happened to Jennifer, if she was as horribly abused as I suspect-"
"I thought you just said-"
"-then that should be a central part of her defense. And that's all I'm saying, Mr. Hardy."
Covering her both ways, Hardy thought.
The elevator arrived. "We're going up." Freeman dismissed him, then softened it. "Thanks for the input."
"You're very welcome. Please call on me any time." And Lightner disappeared behind the closing doors.
They were waiting for Jennifer to be brought into the women's visiting room. Freeman was going over more of the file; Hardy sat across the small table taking in the view through the window – a female guard filing papers in an ancient metal cabinet.
"You know" – he didn't turn around – "a man of your sensitivity and experience ought to be able to do this alone." Hardy had had to be talked into returning to the seventh floor. It was not a pleasant place.
"She hasn't met me yet." Freeman did not stop his reading.
"She just met you downstairs, remember? Department 22. Big room, judge in the front." Freeman raised his rheumy eyes. Hardy came around the table, hovering over him. "You know, one of my beliefs is that everybody should try to get some sleep every night."
"I get enough," Freeman growled.
"Beauty rest, then, you could use more beauty rest."
"Look." Changing tracks. "We may not be doing this at all. I want it, don't get me wrong, but if there's no fee… and then there's the fact that I wouldn't blame her at all if she dumped me right now on her own. Her reaction to me was something less than warm. To combat that eventuality I've asked you to accompany me – she seemed to relate to you for some unknown reason. Maybe you can at least buffer things at the beginning here. I explained this once."
"I know. I even understood it."
"Just trying to lighten you up, David. We've already lost one downstairs. We want this case, we might want to slap on a little of the suave."
Freeman gave him a face. "I don't do suave." But he forced a weary grin. "That's why I need you."
They were getting through the first minutes. Jennifer, tight, said nothing while Freeman explained the bail situation – how there just wasn't much any attorney could do in a capital case such as hers. It was also a sales pitch of sorts – defense work might be Freeman's vocation, but it was also his livelihood, and he felt obliged to nail down the level of his involvement before he proceeded, but all she wanted now was for him to appeal the bail denial.
"You can't want me to stay in here?"
Hardy stood, back to the door, hands in his pockets. After a night in jail Jennifer's feelings about the relative importance of bail had only escalated, and understandably so.
Freeman folded his hands on the table in front of him, speaking very quietly. "Of course not, Mrs. Witt. But we have got realities to deal with, and I'm afraid one of them involves money."
"Money. It's always money, isn't it?"
For a moment Hardy thought she almost sounded like her brother.
Freeman spread his hands. In fact, he thought, it often was money. He felt obliged to lay it out for her now, however unpleasant it might be. "You might get a million-dollar bail on appeal. That's a hundred thousand to the bondsman. Plus the cost of the appeal. If you can't manage that you'll have to go with a public defender at trial."
Her glance – quick and frightened – went to the door. "Why not you and Mr. Hardy?"
Freeman's hands came back together. "Frankly, our retainer… it's my decision, is going to be two hundred thousand dollars, and anybody else would require as much. So if you can't raise the money you go with the public defender." In addition to believing it was better to be even brutally frank up front, Freeman also held the view that it was actually better for the client to show your tough side, on the theory that if you could be this difficult with your own, think how you'd eat up your enemies. He had long since stopped asking himself if this were a rationalization. He couldn't afford such thoughts, he told himself.
"But isn't a public defender just anyone?"
"No, they have to be approved by the court. And in capital cases there's a substantial level of competency."
"A level of competency," she muttered, shaking her head.
"I'm very sorry, but those are the facts of the matter-"
"But this is my life!"
"David." Hardy felt he had to break in here. All of what Freeman was saying might be important and even true, but the money wasn't the point for Hardy and he suspected that, at bottom, it wasn't really for Freeman either, though he put on a convincing act to the contrary.
Now the old man lifted his baggy eyes. "What?"
"Let's go outside for a minute."
They left Jennifer sitting at the table in the tiny room. Outside, in the start hallway, the jail noises now much louder, Hardy got to it. "How about we come back to the money later?"
"It's got to get settled, Diz. She doesn't want to change attorneys." He scratched at the lines around his right eye. "She doesn't have enough, then ethically we've got no business starting. I'm just trying to find out, get things clear."
"You're grilling her, is what you're doing."
Freeman waved that off. "Grill, schmill, we need to know and we need to know now." He patted Hardy's shoulder. "Look, I know, it's a good case. Hell, we could do it pro bono for advertising. But I want to know what we're dealing with, and this is the time to find out. After that… well, I'll make it up to her." He inclined his head. "Let's go back in. I'll make it short and sweet. Promise."
Freeman sat across from Jennifer. "Mr. Hardy and I are sorry to have to put you through this, Jennifer, but we do need to know your financial situation. That will help clarify where we go from here."
The muscles in Jennifer's jaw were working, her face blank. "Well, I don't think money's a problem… the insurance, you know?"
Freeman was shaking his head. "No, Jennifer. They'll hold it until you're finished with this. If you're found guilty, they won't pay."
Hardy couldn't believe it, was she actually trying to smile? "But you'll keep them from finding me guilty."
Freeman shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't gamble with my own money, Jennifer." Hardy was thinking that his partner hadn't lied – he didn't do suave. "So let's leave that aside," Freeman was saying. "What else? I mean, besides the insurance."
They had lived in their house for five years, she said, but they had bought high, just as the market was slowing down. Equity was probably at seventy thousand, or a little less. Providing she could sell it. The house account was around twenty thousand. They had had some stocks, another sixty-five thousand. Furniture, some jewelry, two cars. Garage sale prices, Freeman figured.
"What happens if you get bail and… what do they say?… jump it?" Jennifer asked. Then, at Freeman's glare, "I mean in theory."
"Don't even think about it. And don't let anybody hear you ask about it. In fact, don't talk to anybody here in jail about anything? That's good free advice. Now, if you jump – first, you lose the money you put up. All of it, and then they will catch you, believe me, they will. You'll never ever get a bondsman again. Finally, you've got the entire judiciary A, convinced you're guilty and Two-"
"B," Hardy interjected.
"And Two, prejudiced like hell against you. It's a bad, bad idea. Don't even think about it."
"Not that she's got any bail to jump anyway," Hardy reminded him.
"Do you guys rehearse this?" she asked.
Freeman was scribbling on his pad. He looked up. "Here's what I get – even if you don't do the bail appeal and if you sell your house and completely tap out, you're still short. We want to help you, but I'm afraid I'll have to tell the judge we're withdrawing-"
Jennifer faced them. "There's more," she said. "There's another account."
Freeman stopped gathering his papers. Hardy pulled a chair around and straddled it. "What do you mean, another account?" Freeman asked.
Jennifer looked down, swallowing. Obviously nervous. "Sometimes… I just didn't think Larry and I were going to make it, you know? And I thought, well, if I had to go out on my own, with Matt, I mean…" She looked from one man to the other. "I mean, I just felt I had better have something of my own for Matt and me. Just in case…"
"Just in case what?" Freeman was staring at her.
"Well, you know, like I said, in case it didn't work out. In case I had to get away or something-"
"Get away from what? " Freeman was remembering what the psychiatrist Lightner had said about abuse.
"Are you saying your husband beat you?" Hardy asked. "You never…"
Jennifer brought her hand up to her face, as though feeling for remembered bruises. "No, he didn't, not really, but, you know… still, if I really needed it…"
She stammered it out. She had been squirreling money away for some nine years. In spite of Larry's tight grip on everything, she had found ways to take "a little from here, some from there," pad about what she spent on Matt, toys, clothes, make-up, decorating, anything she could manage. The amounts had grown to almost a thousand a month, and she had learned to invest it in high-risk stocks so that the account now totaled close to three-hundred-thousand dollars, unencumbered and liquid.
"Well," said Freeman, allowing himself a smile, "if you still want us, Mrs. Witt, you've got us."
Hardy did not smile. Jennifer's revelation, however justifiable she might make it seem, still bothered him. He'd rather not have known, to tell the truth.
"Tell me about Larry Witt."
Jennifer and Freeman sat across the table from one another. Hardy was a fly on the wall against the inside of the door. Freeman had produced a thermos of coffee from his briefcase, and three styrofoam cups now steamed on the table.
"What do you want to know? About him and me?"
"I want to know everything." Freeman had his coat and one arm draped over the back of his chair. He slouched, his shirt was half untucked. "But I suppose we should start with how often he beat you up."
Jennifer blinked, then recovered. Her eyes widened, went to Freeman, then settled on Hardy. "I said we were fighting, not that Larry beat me."
Freeman put out his hand, back toward Hardy, keeping him from responding. He spoke soothingly. "But he did beat you?"
"I don't see why that would matter."
Freeman kept his voice low, persuasive. "It matters, Jennifer, because it gives you a defense. It gives the jury something they can hold onto." Hardy couldn't help noticing this was not what Freeman had told Dr. Lightner downstairs when he had characterized the battered-wife defense, given the death of Matt, as a hard sell to the jury. "In fact, though, he did beat you?"
She took a moment, the muscle in her jaw working. "I didn't kill Larry, Mr. Freeman. I don't care what reason you come up with why I might have, I didn't… What about Matt? My God, are they going to say I killed Matt too?"
"They're already saying that, Jennifer."
Her laugh was so brittle it broke. "And what's their reason? For me to do that? Have you thought about it? How are they saying I killed my son?"
Freeman kept his voice flat, quiet. "Matt's not what we're talking about, Jennifer. Right now we're talking about Larry."
"I don't care about Larry." Jennifer slapped the table. "I didn't kill Matt. Don't you understand that?" She looked up at Hardy.
He felt he had to answer her. "They're going to say that Matt just showed up by accident, that you panicked or he got in the way of you shooting Larry."
She closed her eyes, breathing heavily now. "But… but if it was an accident it's not first degree murder, is it? I mean, it didn't happen, but if they say it did, it's not the same as Larry…" Her face was deathly pale.
Hardy was tempted to explain it as Drysdale and Powell had put it to him. He resisted, but it worried him some that she had even asked, followed by a quick denial.
At the same time, as though he had just confirmed something to himself, Freeman nodded, straightened himself and sat forward, cradling his hands on the table. His voice, again, was carefully modulated, but it was a master's instrument, and this time, beneath the soothing tone, thrummed a hint of a threat. "I want you to be very clear on something here, Jennifer. I am not accusing you of anything. But you should know that I will neither believe nor disbelieve anything you tell me. Anything. Whether you did it or didn't do it. Why or why not."
"But I didn't-"
Freeman held up a flat palm. "You must believe me that if your husband, in fact, did hit you, the prosecution will hammer that point again and again as one motive for you to have killed him. Now, if one time you and Larry had a fight and he struck you, that isn't going to satisfy most juries that he gave you a reason to kill him. But if we can come back and show that this was a recurring event in your marriage, that you were living in a state of constant fear and stress, then at least we've countered their argument. Regardless of whether or not you killed him-"
Jennifer was shaking her head. "I didn't kill him, but if I did I was justified? Is that it?"
Hardy straightened up. He had been thinking the same thing, that you could not have it both ways. Reason or no reason, either she killed him or she didn't.
Jennifer understood and cared about this distinction. Good, Hardy thought. But then, he had to face another countering thought… an embezzler with a logical mind, capable of long-range planning and execution? Was Jennifer Witt the kind of person who might just get away with murder?
But Freeman wasn't backing away. "We're going to find some defense out of all of this, but we'd damn well better be prepared for all the arguments, and to just keep repeating I didn't do it will not, I'm afraid, be effective."
Hardy moved forward to the table. Jennifer's face was hard, her eyes angry. Tears threatened. Suddenly Freeman reached across the table and covered Jennifer's hands with his own. "Let's just talk, all right, Jennifer? Did Larry hit you?"
She nodded. "But it wasn't… I mean, there were a couple of times he got physical, but… I guess they were my fault-"
"How could it have been your fault?" Hardy said.
"Well, I messed up. I would just, I don't know, make a mistake and-"
"And your husband would beat you?" Freeman, who had heard it all from many clients, still sounded incredulous.
Jennifer balled a fist and pounded the table. Was that an act? Hardy couldn't figure it.
"Look, please, stop saying he beat me. Maybe he did hit me a couple of times but it wasn't like he… he beat me up. He'd get mad, yes. But he loved me and it just disappointed him that I didn't live up to what I should have."
"And then what?" Freeman said.
"And then what what?"
"What happened next, after Larry beat… hit… you?" He didn't add, for your own good. He waited. This was getting serious.
She hunched her head down again – the mannerism suggesting a cowed, beaten state of mind, and it was becoming almost familiar. "He felt terrible, I know. I couldn't believe I'd made him feel that way…"
"You made him feel that way? How did you do that?"
"By messing up. If I hadn't…"
"He wouldn't have hit you?"
"Yes. Do you see?"
Hardy and Freeman exchanged a look, then Freeman continued. "So Larry felt bad after he hit you?"
"Awful. Really. He did love me, you know. I can see what you're thinking, and it's just not true. He's the only one who knew the real me. Afterward he'd be so affectionate, bring me flowers the next day." Now something seemed to embarrass her. "Sometimes, those were the best times. Afterward, I mean."
"After he hit you?"
"But it was only a couple of times, wasn't it? You just said that. And a couple is two. Might it have been three?" Freeman said.
She didn't cave. "No, no, it was two. I didn't mean sometimes, I mean both times." She nodded. It seemed they had hit the bottom of that well. But her reluctance to acknowledge the abuse was still hard to understand.
Freeman glanced at the folder on the table in front of him. "Let's talk about who did kill Larry if you didn't. I mean, since you didn't. Any ideas?"
She took a minute to change gears, then reached for the coffee. Her eyes were getting better. "He worked hard, he was a doctor."
"Yes, but did he have any enemies, anybody who might have it in for him?"
"Well, maybe his first wife… I mean, this sounds so ridiculous, I don't want to accuse his first wife or anything. I know she didn't kill him."
"How do you know that, Jennifer?"
"Well, I mean, she just wouldn't, not after all this time. It wouldn't have made any sense."
"Might it have earlier?"
Playing with the styrofoam, picking at it, she shifted herself on the hard chair. "Well, you know, it was one of those situations where she worked while he went to medical school, and then he graduated and they just didn't get along. I guess she was pretty unhappy about it at the time."
"Did you figure in that?"
She let herself pout, which struck Hardy as somewhat affected. An act. Jennifer Witt was not easy to figure out.
Freeman prodded. "So Larry's ex-wife, what was her name?"
"And, I ask again, were you in the picture when she and Larry broke up?"
"Well, they were already having problems."
Which answered that.
"Did you mention Molly to the police?"
"No. I told you, she wouldn't have-"
"Just covering bases, Jennifer." Freeman jotted something on his pad, and Hardy came and sat back down. "Anybody else who didn't care for Larry? What about Tom?" Jennifer's hot-tempered younger brother had left an impression.
Again, that near jump, that blink, sitting up as though Freeman had slapped her. "What about Tom? How do you know about Tom?"
Freeman ignored the reaction. "What about him and Larry?"
She shrugged. "Larry and I never saw Tom a lot. He's got such a chip on his shoulder."
"I don't know what it is exactly. Jealous of Larry, maybe."
At Freeman's look, she hastened to correct herself. "No, not that kind of jealous. Really, what do you think I am?"
Freeman leaned forward again. "I don't know, Jennifer, that's what I'm trying to figure out. You tell me how Tom was jealous. Jealous enough to kill Larry?"
The acting, if it was, suddenly stopped, and so did the fidgeting. "Tom is mad at his life, I think. He didn't have money, didn't go to college. He feels like he doesn't have a chance and never did, but that doesn't mean-"
"Like your father?"
"I guess that's what Tom's afraid of, that he'll wind up like Dad. Except my dad never wanted as much. Also, it was a lot easier to get a house in those days, even if you were blue collar, and the house was enough for Dad. But I think Tom saw it as… as a sort of prison. I did, too, in a way, but I got out."
"What does he do? Tom?"
"I don't think he does anything regularly. I know he drives a forklift sometimes. Does construction. Whatever he can find, I guess."
"And he resented Larry, and you, for having money?"
"We didn't have that much, but I suppose yes. And me for not having worked for it."
"But now you do?"
"Have money. A good deal of money."
She bit her lip, perhaps not understanding Freeman's implication? Perhaps understanding it all too well?
"What's that got to do with Tom?"
"Maybe he tried to borrow some and Larry wouldn't go for it. If Larry's gone, he's got a better chance, getting some from his sister alone."
She shook her head. "No."
Freeman made another note. Hardy decided he'd better check some alibis. Maybe Glitsky could poke around, too – Abe often said that going behind the department's back was just what was needed to spice up the otherwise routine life of the homicide investigator.
Freeman covered Jennifer's manicured hands with his own gnarled ones. "You know," he said, "I'm kinder and gentler than any prosecuting attorney will be. These aren't even the hard questions, Jennifer. These are in your favor. The prosecutor's won't be."
She half-turned, stretching the jumpsuit against her body, showing a fine profile. She smiled thinly – was she trying for effect? "That's really good to know," she said. "I can't wait for the hard ones."
"Okay." Freeman's hands came away and his smile was not friendly. "Since you can't wait, how about this? Were you having an affair?"
Jennifer's shock seemed a near-caricature. "What? When? With who?"
"Whenever. With anybody."
She drilled Freeman with direct-eye contact. "No. Of course not. Absolutely not."
"When weren't you having an affair?"
But they had already done this. Jennifer withered the old lawyer with another look. "When did you stop beating your dog, right?"
Freeman, matter-of-fact. "Sometimes it works."
She lifted her coffee cup and drained it, grimacing at the cold dregs. "Sometimes it doesn't, Mr. Freeman."
Again Hardy found himself wishing she hadn't said something. Was she, perhaps unintentionally, telling them that if it had worked they would have gotten the truth? Or that she simply saw how the game was played and was telling the truth anyway?
Freeman began arranging his papers, putting them into the folder. "Well," he said, "I think we've got enough to get started. Let's digest this and meet again tomorrow."
"What time?" she asked.
Freeman shrugged. "At your convenience, Jennifer."
Now the fear showed through… of being left alone, of the ordeal facing her. "Early then, okay?"
Freeman gave her shoulder a pat. "Crack of dawn," he said.
At seven o'clock Hardy was nursing a Guinness, waiting for Frannie to arrive by cab at the Little Shamrock, the bar at 9^th and Lincoln that he and Moses McGuire, his brother-in-law, owned. Wednesday, by sacred tradition, was the Hardy's date night.
Before Hardy had returned to the practice of law he had been the Shamrock's daytime bartender for a decade. Before that, he had been a you red hot with the District Attorney's office, married to a judge's daughter, starting out a family – Hardy and Jane Fowler and their boy Michael.
Michael was not supposed to be able to stand up at five months, so neither Jane nor Hardy paid close attention to whether or not the sides of the crib were pulled all the way or only halfway up. That oversight took the boy from them. He did manage to climb over the railing and fall onto his head. The fall killed him.
After Michael's death, Hardy's world gradually fell apart, within and without. Now, remarried to Frannie and with two new kids, he didn't feel like he was trying to recapture what he'd had – that was gone for good – but there was hope again, a future. A meaning? That wasn't Hardy's style, but not may days passed that he didn't reflect on how empty his life used to be, and how now it wasn't.
It wasn't clear to him where this fit into the professional turnaround he had taken in the last year, but there was some kind of a visceral bond that, he figured, had to be related. A year ago, for the first time in his life, he had found himself taking the defense side of a murder case because he'd become convinced that the defendant was innocent.
Several factors played into his hands during that trial – an inexperienced judge gave him unusual latitude in his arguments; an over-ambitious prosecutor brought a case that was not really locked up; Hardy, himself, had been angry enough at the DA's bureaucracy that his own motivation went into overdrive. For these reasons, plus the fact that it turned out someone else had done the murder, he had won. Now, after a lifetime during which he had sided with the People, he found himself, for the second time, a lawyer for the defense.
"No need to apologize," Moses McGuire said. "You've become a bleeding heart. It's okay. You're still in the family. We still like you."
Hardy checked his watch. "Where could Frannie be?"
Moses swirled his MaCallan, a fixture in the bar's gutter. "She's undoubtedly on her way, soon to arrive and save you from having to defend your basically untenable position against someone who's smarter than you."
"Defense work." Moses held up a crooked finger. "Uh uh uh, you've said the same thing yourself. More than once."
He found himself saying he wasn't sure Jennifer was guilty.
Moses snorted. "Again I quote from a reliable source who happens to be sitting across from me at this moment: 'If they get all the way to arrested, they did it.'"
Hardy smiled. "I was but a callow youth when I said that."
"And now you're mature?"
"Of course. I've married your sister, started a family, settled down. I'm a model citizen, and sometimes people get arrested when they didn't do it."
Hardy thought about it. "Twice, I think."
His case won, Moses nodded to himself, then walked the length of the bar, schmoozing with the eight paying customers. Wednesday night didn't get going until after nine, when they started the darts tournaments. Hardy drank stout.
Even if he, himself, a few years ago would have said he was on the wrong side, he no longer felt that he was. He could have told Moses he had seen what could happen with an overworked and undermanned police department, a DA's office hungry for "numbers" – convictions. Mistakes got made, simple venality or laziness or incompetence snuck in – maybe not often but often enough. And he was starting to think that that's what he was in it for – when the truth needed the hurly-burly showcase of a public trial to get its face out there, and sometimes that was the only way it did, he wanted to be a part of it. Balance of power. Man against machine, and that's what the bureaucracy of prosecution was. Abe Glitsky told him he had this tragic flaw of a fundamental need to continually restore order to a chaotic cosmos. Glitsky could get fancy. He wasn't sure he'd go that far, but, maybe there was something to it.
Hardy and Frannie sat with their feet in the recess under the table at a tiny place called Hiro's on Judah Street, a couple of blocks south of the Shamrock. Frannie was drinking tea and eating tempura, avoiding the sashimi and sake because she was still breast-feeding, but the platter of ahi, oni, quail eggs and gooey-duck in front of Hardy was nearly empty.
Frannie did not need a dim light to be attractive, but the candle's shadows flattered her wondrously. Hardy couldn't take his eyes from her face. She was holding his hand across the table, talking about Vinnie's day, about Rebecca's expanding vocabulary.
He let her ramble on, feeling that if the Big One – the earthquake all of California expected at any moment – came right then and swallowed them up into the earth, he would die happy.
"Also, besides 'thumbnail,' listen to this, she said her first three-syllable word – 'gravity'."
"You want to tell me what context she used 'gravity' in?" The Beck – Rebecca – was fourteen months old. Up to this time she had shown almost no interest in physics.
"Her sippy cup fell of the table and she got all upset and I told her it was okay, it was just gravity, so she nods and stops crying immediately and repeats 'gravity'. Naturally then she wanted to experiment with it about two hundred more times."
"Of course. You wouldn't want to just let go of a concept like that. What if Newton had?"
"We didn't get into that. I just took the cup away."
Hardy pointed an accusatory finger. "Negative reinforcement, Fran. We've talked about this. If later in life she blanks on gravity, you'll have no one else to blame but yourself."
Frannie sipped at her tea. "I'm going to be able to live with that burden." Suddenly they'd talked about the kids enough – the moment was palpable. There were other items on the agenda. "So how was your day? Are you going to be working with David?"
To the tinkling background music, Hardy described his involvement with Jennifer Witt's case, the bail denial, everything – or almost everything. He did not bring up his nagging doubt that all was not completely as it seemed with his new client. He did, however, tell her about the existence of Jennifer's bank account. "So she's got the money to pay us." Then he tried to explain how she'd come by the money.
Frannie stopped sipping tea. "You're saying she… stole it? The money she's paying you with?"
"No. Not exactly stole it." Hardy pointed a finger. "I like that thing you do with your eyebrows. Scorn and rejection. It's good."
"She didn't exactly steal it? Please."
He gave up. "Okay, so she stole it. She had reasons. It doesn't mean she's a bad person." Trying for levity again, and again it soared like a tractor. "Anyway," he went on, "it's at least a year of work. Keeps my hand in. And if David gets her off, which he often does with his clients, it's a good deal all around."
"What if he doesn't?"
"Well, if he doesn't, it'll be my job to keep her out of the gas chamber."
Frannie, like most people, wasn't too clear on how capital trials were handled in California. Hardy explained that Freeman would conduct the first phase, the one that would determine Jennifer's guilt or innocence. When that was over, if Freeman lost, there would be a second phase, in effect a second trial, to determine one of two possible penalties – life in prison without the possibility of parole, or death.
Hardy was going to argue the second phase, if it came to that.
Frannie shook her head disbelieving… "You're kidding me. That's a good deal? That's my vision of hell."
"It'll never get that far. Don't worry about it."
"Can we write this down? Dismas Hardy says it won't get this far. I shouldn't worry about it. I'd like a copy for my records."
Hardy carefully picked an oni with quail's egg from the plate in front of him and popped it, savoring the explosion of flavor. "I'll have my secretary run one for you. Look, Frannie, David's the best defense lawyer in the city. He's throwing me a bone, that's all it is. A big bone with meat on it."
"And what if she did it? Then what?"
Hardy shook his head. "She didn't kill her son."
"Somebody must think she did. I've heard you say that people don’t get arrested unless they've done something…"
"I was wrong. Now I've seen the light."
Fiddling a minute with her glass, Frannie finally looked up. "This isn't all that funny, after all. I mean, isn't it true that there's a case to be made that she killed her son, even if it was by accident or whatever?"
He had to nod.
"And a good case that she killed her husband."
"Well, a grand-jury indictment isn't necessarily-"
But Frannie had heard this song and stopped him. "And what about her first husband?"
Hardy dismissed it with a wave. "That's just the DA's numbers game. They went back and literally dug that one up. They didn't charge it first time around, they aren't going to prove it now after ten years."
"More famous last words," Frannie said. "But what if? What if all of the above doesn't happen as your predict? Then what? Or worse, what if it turns out she really did do it, I mean killed both husbands and her child?"
Hardy didn't like these questions, mostly because he'd asked them so recently to himself. Jennifer's acting, posing, brains and plotting ability were not insignificant. He didn't, of course, want to argue mercy for someone who didn't deserve any, and on the off-chance that Jennifer was guilty of these things, she didn't deserve a break today or any other day.
But, turning into a good lawyer, he had at least developed an answer he hoped would work in a penalty phase. "If she killed her husband, I can argue that he beat her, which he apparently did."
"You know that?"
"I think so. Though she more or less denies it."
"Well, that's heartening. Very strong."
"Boy, this is fun."
"That's 'cause I'm a fun guy to be with. One minute, nothing's happening, then whammo, suddenly it's fun city." They were in their new Honda Accord – the jeep-like Suzuki Samurai a sacrifice to small children – cruising down Haight Street at ten o'clock at night. He took her hand. She gently removed it.
"Almost done," he said. It was an apology.
From Hiro's they had decided to go back to the Shamrock to spend some time with Moses. Frannie has been missing her brother, hadn't seen him in a week.
David Freeman did not like to use private investigators, preferring to do his legwork himself. And with his current trial taking much of his time, he had asked Hardy to check out a few details relating to Jennifer Witt.
So before they went down to the Shamrock, Hardy suggested that he and Frannie swing by the house Jennifer, Larry and Matt had lived in, just to get the feel of it. His copy of the folder was still in his car, so they looked up the address on Twin Peaks and it took them nearly twenty minutes to find it – Olympia Way. Then, since it was right on the way, Hardy said he might as well measure the distance from the house to Jennifer's bank, where she had taken money out of her ATM.
Unfortunately, there were four banks on the revitalized old hippy thoroughfare and all of them had ATMs. So Hardy was writing down mileages while Frannie commented on the good time they had been having for the past forty-five minutes.
The bank on Haight closest to the Witt house was just over a mile from their front door. The furthest, all the way down near the border of Golden Gate Park, was about two miles. Hardy had no idea if these facts would ever prove to be important, but felt more comfortable having them. He liked to operate under the general principle that facts made a difference, even if you didn't always know, precisely, what that difference was.
"Good. Now that we know that," Frannie exclaimed when he had written down the last numbers, "I'll be able to sleep tonight."
Hardy's own crack-of-dawn was literally that. The telephone next to his bed rang at five-forty as the thinnest line of pink began to show out his bedroom window. He got it on the first ring.
"This is Walter Terrell. Wake you up? Sorry. Abe Glitsky asked me to give you a call. What can I do for you?"
Hardy heard the young voice, noting the penchant some cops had for getting to you when you weren't ready for them. He bet that Terrell wasn't really that surprised that he'd woken him up, nor sorry. Five-forty was a little early for anybody except fishermen and most folks seemed to know that. Even Hardy's kids still slept.
But he had him now, and this might be the only time, so he swung out of bed and padded into the kitchen with the phone. "I thought we might be able to get together, talk a little about Jennifer Witt."
There was a pause. Perhaps Glitsky hadn't told Terrell exactly who Hardy was. Or his relationship to Jennifer. But one thing was sure – Terrell knew Hardy wasn't with the DA's office.
"You doing her defense?" Terrell asked finally.
"Keenan counsel." Hardy was pouring leftover coffee into a mug and pushing buttons on the microwave. "Penalty phase."
"Yeah, I saw it was going capital. You guys got yourself a bitch. The case, I mean. The perp, too, actually."
Hardy bit back his automatic response of "alleged" perp. Hardy recalled when he had walked a beat – start saying "alleged" to cops about people they had arrested, pretty soon you'd find you weren't friends anymore. He wanted to keep Terrell on his side.
"Well, this perp's maybe got a decent defense, but she doesn't want to use it. I mean, it seems her husband had been beating her."
This evidently didn't change Terrell's world view. "So?"
"You knew that?"
Hardy almost thought he could hear a shrug. "Guys beat their wives, most of them don't get killed."
"What I'm saying" – Hardy pulled his coffee mug from the microwave, put in sugar, stirred – "is she could take the battered-wife defense and have a better chance of getting off, and yet she won't."
Terrell was silent. To him, these were legal shenanigans. His job was to deliver someone to the DA if there was evidence they'd committed a crime. What the DA's office did after that was not his problem. Finally he asked, "So, what did you want to see me about? I assume you've read the file."
Terrell kept up the slow response. "The file's the official record. I'm in it. Does it say anything about beating?"
"It said they were fighting." Hardy felt rudderless, struggling to get his brain moving.
"Well, there you go. Anything else? I got a big morning."
"Did you find anything on this hit man?"
The voice dripped scorn. "That's right, the hit man. City's crawling with them. No. I didn't mention him for the same reason I didn't mention the motorboat."
"The one that wasn't there, just like the fucking hit man. There was a lot of things I didn't put in – space aliens, for example. If you read the report, the hit man's there in her statement. Hell, she's got to have something if it's her story somebody else did it. What's she gonna say?"
"It’s so lame you'd think-"
"No. It's just lame, all right, but that doesn't mean she didn't make it up all the same. Perps make up dumb lies every day."
"But Mrs. Witt doesn't seem dumb, does she?"
"No," Terrell agreed, "no, I don't think she's dumb. At least it aint an NHI – that's something, huh?"
NHI was shorthand for "No humans involved" – cases involving the scum of the earth – dope dealers, career criminals, sub-humans of all sorts.
Terrell was still on the line. "But you know, we sent people to a lot of doors and asked and nobody saw a thing except the FedEx truck at 9:30 and the neighbor who saw Jennifer after the shots. After the two shots."
"What about the driver of the FedEx truck?"
"This is all in the file. What about the FedEx guy? You think he's some kind of hit man took the driving job as cover for a day?"
"Well, as we like to do, we checked him, too. He's been with them for a couple of years, probably still is."
"No, what I wondered is if he saw Mrs. Witt in the house when he made his delivery. What was he delivering, by the way?"
"It's the Monday after Christmas, what do you think? Probably a late Christmas present. You can ask him. Did he see Mrs. Witt? I don't know. The husband signed for whatever it was."
Hardy could keep following this road until Terrell hung up on him in about another six seconds. An overworked homicide investigator and a defense attorney was not a natural pair to begin with. But he recalled Glitsky's comment about Terrell's fondness for theories and figured it was his only shot to get the man if not on his side then away from active hostility. You never knew but when an investigator could tell you something important you couldn't otherwise discover. As Glitsky had noted, some things just didn't make the file.
Hardy began again. "One last thing if you don't mind. What clued you to the first husband?"
"Well, maybe it's 'cause, bein' a cop an' all, it's my job."
The fuse was getting critically short. Hardy had to come up with something or this guy was history. "Look, Terrell, I want to know what I need to know. I need some help, one cop to another." At the silence, Hardy continued. "I used to be a cop before I was a lawyer."
"Ah, the Glitsky connection?"
Hardy admitted he had walked a beat with Abe Glitsky after Vietnam and before law school. He felt a little foolish trotting out the old resume, but he knew what were likely to be buttons for police officers. Sometimes it helped to push them. "Anyway, this first husband, the guy was poisoned…"
"So what was that story? I mean, how'd you figure it? A gun and poison don't exactly point to the same perp."
The line of pink over downtown had widened to a blue band under low clouds. The sun broke over the Oakland hills. The coffee, old and strong, was kicking in. From the nursery in the back of the house, Vincent let out his I'm-hungry cry, and there was the soft sound of Frannie's voice settling him against her.
Hardy has missed a few words but picked it up mid-thought.
"… insurance in both cases. I just thought Ned was worth another look. Turns out it was pay dirt."
"And you think it was Jennifer?"
"That's what ties 'em. Ned was murdered. Then Larry and the kid. Her own kid. Shit, I say fry her."
Rebecca came running through the kitchen doorway in her teddy-bear nightgown, attaching herself to Hardy's leg and announcing her choice for the morning's breakfast menu – syrup, juice, applesauce, syrup, pancakes, syrup and maple syrup.
"Sorry," Hardy said into the phone, "it's the invasion of the two-year-olds But I'd like to talk about how you got this. If it's righteous… I don't know. I'd just like to find out."
Flattery, the great motivator. Terrell said Hardy could pick a good time and they'd see if they could get together.
When he hung up, he asked his daughter if she wanted syrup with her pancakes. She said yes, she did, syrup was her favorite.
It was all in the file. Although Terrell told Hardy that they had sent out lots of people to question neighbors and other witnesses, he had interviewed the driver of the Federal Express truck himself two days after Larry Witt had been killed.
Frederico Rivera was the twenty-six-year-old Hispanic male who had delivered the package to the Witt house at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, December 28. He knew it was exactly 9:30 for several reasons. First, Larry Witt had signed his name, then looked at his watch and written in the time ("very precise uptight guy") next to the time (Fred) had already written on the delivery record – so they had two people corroborating 9:30. But Fred had also been listening to Holiday Madness on KFWB where they were giving away trips to Hawaii if you were the ninth caller after they played the Solid Gold Oldie of the Day, which this day was "Two Faces Have I," by Lou Christie. And they always played the Solid Gold Oldie at 10:30 sharp. Fred remembered all this because it was only two days ago and the DJ had made a big deal about how they only had EXACTLY ONE HOUR left – so it had to be 9:30 – just as he'd gotten back to the truck, and he had been trying to figure his route so he'd be close to a pay phone at that last critical moment.
Hardy, sitting at the dining room table with his copy of the report that he'd photocopied in Freeman's office the day before, yelled in to ask Frannie if she knew who had sung "Two Faces Have I" and she said it was before her time.
It was still shy of seven o'clock.
"I'm only twenty-seven, Dismas. Nobody my age knows that stuff."
"Fred Rivera does." He told her about Lou Christie, about "Two Faces Have I," one of the great classics of the pop era. He'd have to play it for her sometime if he could find it among his ancient 45s. She said she couldn't wait. He asked her if she'd ever hear the long version and then, smiling, went back to the file.
And discovered that none of Fred's or Larry's actions had been really necessary to pinpoint the time precisely – Federal Express uses computerized vans, and after each stop the driver entered the delivery information. Terrell had checked – he might have theories, but he was also thorough – and the log-in had been at 9:31, giving Fred a minute to finish up with Larry and get back to his van.
Fred Rivera did not see Jennifer in her house at 9:30, but given his preoccupation with the Solid Gold Oldie, Hardy thought it was unlikely he would have paid much attention even if she had been parading around naked behind Larry. Well, maybe then. Hardy wondered where Matt had been.
So Fred Rivera hadn't seen anybody. Neither had he witnessed any suspicious persons walking up or down the street – again, not that he was looking.
Mrs. Florence Barbieto called the police at 9:40, a "couple of minutes" after she heard the shots. The houses on Olympia, though large, were set almost on top of one another, no more than fifteen feet between structures. She had heard shots, then looked out her window to the house next door, thought about it for a while, walked over and rang the Witt's doorbell. When there was no answer, she went back home and called the police.
Hardy thought that sounded more like five minutes than a couple. Which meant that either the shots were fired at 9:38 or three or so minutes before then. Could such a small detail make any kind of difference? Maybe. Maybe not.
The facts were beginning their slow accretion. So were the possible interpretations.
Jennifer soon realized that she and the people here weren't so different. She had not expected that. They weren't so tough or scary as they'd seemed when she'd first been brought in. And they were beaten down, caged, for the most part docile. Just like her.
Not that it was a knitting bee. There was constant vulgarity, but she found that almost comforting – an acknowledgment of shared feeling, of being in this together. This was their language in their world and to hell with anybody who didn't like it.
Nobody seemed to care at all whether or not she was guilty of killing her husband. But when they heard about her son… well, it got real to them. She could tell, and she couldn't blame them. Everything, though, still seemed unreal to her.
The night before, after her older money-hungry lawyer had gone away with the nicer young one, she had cried on the top bunk of her cell for hours. At 3:00 p.m. they locked everybody back in the cells and had what they called count to make sure no one was missing. That took the better part of the hour, and then they brought the food.
By then Jennifer thought she was all cried out. Without really thinking about it, she took her tray and her plastic utensils and followed some of the other women out to the large common room, the tank. She set herself down at one of the tables under the television set.
She couldn't eat any of it – meatloaf, gravy, fake mashed potatoes, peas, three slices of bread. Larry would have thrown the plate across the room, especially with the gravy slopping over into the peas and the bread. She found herself crying again.
"You best eat up, honey. They's worse shit than this." It was a tall, almost stately black woman. "This your first time?"
Jennifer hadn't even been sure what she was talking about. First time she'd had meatloaf? First time she'd cried. She hung her head, shaking it from side to side. "I don't know, I just don't know…"
The other woman, Clara, didn't pursue it. Whatever Jennifer didn't know, it was all right with her. She sat down next to her, even asked permission, and started to eat, saying she was in – again – for thieving. "What you in for?"
Jennifer put a fork into the meat and brought it to her mouth. There was no taste, good or bad. "They think I killed my husband."
Clara nodded, unimpressed. "Shit, prob'ly deserved it, am I right? How bad he beat you up?"
"I didn't say that. He was a good man, a doctor, and I didn't kill him."
"Course you didn't." Clara went back to her plate. "Don't worry. Say he beat you, they let you go. You see. Get out of here, no problem. Things work out. Nothing to cry about."
Jennifer didn't mean it, but it came out. "I miss my son."
Clara put down her fork. "I know. I miss my baby too – Rodney just two, but he be some beauty. They don't give me more than a year, so I do five months and twenty days and Rodney stay with Else, my sister. She good to Rodney. Sometime he too much for me, so this be maybe some kind of vacation. For us both. May be that's God's plan."
Jennifer shook her head again. "My baby's gone," she said. "He's dead." She felt Clara stop eating next to her. She put a hand on Jennifer's shoulders, her black eyes liquid and soft. "Oh, child."
"They think I killed him too. It's crazy… They say he came in while Larry and I were fighting over the gun, or something like that. It's so stupid, crazy… And there's no bail."
Clara took her hand away. Her voice was hoarse and low. "I never heard of no bail."
Jennifer told her she'd heard of it now.
"You sure? The done the hearing? Yeah, 'course they have. Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. How old your boy?"
"Matt. He was seven. They tell me they're going to ask for the death penalty."
"For you? Well, you lucky there." The news seemed to pluck her up. Jennifer stared at her, uncomprehending, and Clara explained. "You the wrong color for that, girl. The don't give no gas to no white woman look like you."
At breakfast there was Clara and the other new white woman, Rhea (grand theft). And Mercedes (murder) and Rosie (aggravated assault) and Jennifer. All of the men and women on the seventh floor were either awaiting trial or, convicted, waiting for their trip to state prison or another facility.
Mercedes was going to trial in a couple of weeks and had been in jail for four months. She had finally stabbed her no good husband because he'd been running around on her. Rosie, who had beaten her boyfriend with a rolling pin, didn't have two thousand dollars for bail. Her trial was in six days and she was sure no jury would convict her.
Rhea was about Jennifer's age, size, hair color, but all the beauty had been used out of her. She was telling them how her husband had been pimping her out and they'd gotten lucky (or unlucky) with a john who'd lost his wallet with nearly a thousand dollars in it. "That's why they went for the grand theft."
"They always lookin'," Clara said.
"What's you bail?" Jennifer asked. She had been giving more thought to bail lately. If she had three-hundred-thousand dollars and could get out of jail for a third of that, she could take the other two-hundred-thousand and disappear for a long time. Forever. Why did she want to spend it on David Freeman, just give it to him? It didn't seem right somehow.
"Five thousand," Rhea answered. "So it's takin' Jimmy a day or two to get it together. It's cool. We talked about it."
"You mean you boyfriend, he'll bring in five thousand dollars and you'll just go home tonight or tomorrow and that's it?"
"This girl got no bail." Jennifer was Clara's story and she wanted to tell it. "No bail at all."
Rhea, ignoring Clara, seemed to smell something. Something with Jennifer. "You got no bail? Is that true? Don't you want out of here?"
"Amen to that," Mercedes said, "Everybody want out of here."
"'Cept me." Rosie, who had nearly killed her boyfriend, was the youngest of them, a diminutive, sweet-faced Hispanic. "I stay in here as long as they let me."
"You want that?"
Rosie's black eyes shone at Jennifer. "I want to be where I don't get hit no more."
"Amen," Mercedes said. "Amen amen."
"I get out of here," Rosie continued, "next day somebody's going to be hitting me. Next time he hit me I think I keel that son-of-a-bitch. So here" – and her face brightened – "I'm safe. Nobody hit me. I can't hit nobody back. I stay a while here. I think."
One of the guards, with a tag on her chest that read "Jessup," was moving their way. The talking stopped.
She came over to them. "You ladies having a nice time? Sure sounds like it." She tapped the table gently with her nightstick, her mouth becoming a thin line, nearly invisible. "Finish it up, now. Let's eat up."
Jennifer heard her name called over the loudspeaker.
Freeman was not sitting. Nor was Hardy. Jennifer looked defiantly up at them both. Freeman, who had obviously been through this sort of thing many times before, spoke matter-of-factly. "Typically, a full-scale murder trial will run to between half-a-million and a million in legal fees, so yes, I'd say your retainer will be spent."
"Then what what, Jennifer?"
"After it's gone."
"Then we go to the court and get paid by the state."
"Couldn't they still just pick a public defender then?"
Freeman nodded. "They could, but they won't. They don't want some new defense team coming in and spending a year getting up to speed. By that time we'll know the case inside out and the court will stay with us."
"How about if we just don't mention my… my secret account?"
Freeman was shaking his head, pacing. "Jennifer. Without your secret account there isn't any money to begin with, so the court then appoints whoever it wants, and you've already said you don't want that. You know, I'm afraid I don't really understand your problem here. You're going on trial for your life, Jennifer. And you're talking about money you'll never be able to spend if you don't have the best representation and, frankly, maybe even with it."
"That'a'way, David, Hardy thought, sugarcoat it. He did understand that Freeman felt he had to give Jennifer a dose of reality, but her response made Hardy feel that he was going too far. Her head was going back down in that cowed way she had; she was blinking back new tears.
Freeman appeared unaffected by this display, but he did stop in front of her and speak more quietly. "Jennifer, look at me, okay. Look up. All right, now listen. We are going to do our best to get you off here. That's what I do – it's my specialty, you might say. And as soon as you're found innocent you collect some five-million dollars insurance money. But if you're not found innocent… well, you don't get any of your money, insurance or secret account. Plus you could face the extreme penalty. So what's it going to be? You decide."
She swallowed hard and, for a moment, studied the table in front of her. "The only thing is, Mr. Freeman," she whispered, "isn't it true that if I retain you, I won't have enough money for bail?"
At first it didn't even register. A minute earlier Jennifer Witt had been rocked. Or seemed to have been. How her eyes were clear, her head was up.
Freeman noticed, too. This lady was nobody's fool. Now, suddenly, there was a sense of gamesmanship in the tiny room. Hardy was outside of it, but Freeman sat down and leaned toward her. "Good," he said, "good."
"Good what?" She leaned away from him in her folding chair, an elbow going over the back of it.
Freeman ignored the direct question. "If we can get bail, which you remember has been denied already. You're thinking a hundred-thousand pays the bondsman and you can get out and jump, isn't that it?"
Jennifer, still sitting back, silently met his gaze.
"You think your house is worth a million dollars? I remind you that you didn't think it was yesterday. The three-hundred-thousand in your secret account won't do it. And neither will the insurance. You'll need at least a million that's relatively liquid. And no matter who represents you and what you pay them, this is reality. Bail is a waste of time. Even if you get it, you can't pay it."
"Which means I'm here until my trial is over?"
Freeman nodded. "I'm afraid that's what it means."
Jennifer took that in, pulled herself up to the table, and crossed her hands in front of her. After a minute, surprisingly, she began to smile. It was the first smile Hardy had seen from her, and it was quite lovely. "I'm going to have to think more about this."
Hardy started to interject, but Freeman put up a restraining hand. "Fine, Jennifer, fine. Shall we just withdraw as your attorneys now?"
"No! I don't want that. Can't I just have a little more time to be sure?"
"Jennifer, a retainer is needed. The court will need to know that you're represented at all times. If it's not me, as I've told you, they'll appoint somebody, and until your personal money's gone you'll have to pay them too."
"Could I pay some say twenty-five thousand now and the rest by Monday if I decided to go ahead-?"
"As opposed to what? Not go ahead. Do you want to plead guilty? If, and it's a big if, the DA will deal, it will probably mean life without parole."
Again, Hardy couldn't read her. Her eyes were bright, alive. Scared, a brave front? Or…
"I don't know."
Now Hardy felt he had to say something. "Jennifer, pleading means you say you did it for a lesser penalty. You realize that?"
She nodded slowly.
"But you've been telling us – adamantly, as a matter of fact – that you didn't. Now which is it?"
"Diz, it doesn't matter," Freeman said. "Not now."
But Hardy had had enough of Freeman's "professionalism." He was starting to get involved in the facts, in belief or doubt, in his own motivations, and in Jennifer's personal story. He slammed the table top with a flat hand, raising his voice. "Damn it, David, it matters to me!" He went back to the client. "Now which is it, Jennifer? And whatever it is, let's stick with it."
Jennifer hung her head for a moment or two, then raised her eyes. "Maybe I don't think I can win. Wouldn't that be a good reason to plead?"
Freeman said "yes" at the same instant Hardy replied, "Not if you didn't do it."
"Well, I didn't do it."
Hardy straightened up. "All right, then."
As though they had decided it long ago, Freeman opened his briefcase and removed a piece of paper. "Okay, Jennifer, we're in business."
Hardy was at Lou the Greek's, finishing his coffee and calling it lunch, having long since given up hope that what he had ordered would become edible. Lou's wife was Chinese and she did the cooking – some of it delicious, all of it unique – but today's special of Sweet amp; Sour Dolmas just flat didn't sing.
In nearly two hours of discussion with Freeman and himself, Jennifer had not budged – she was innocent. They were not going to plead guilty even if they could. Which, in its own way, was good. At least it eliminated any ambiguity. Jennifer was sticking her attorneys with the classic passive, negative defense – at every turn, demonstrate the weakness of the prosecution's case; the burden of proof was on the prosecutor and Freeman's position was going to be that they had not met that burden. Period.
Except, of course, nothing was really that simple. As both Hardy and Freeman had tried to point out to Jennifer, the prosecution's case, on the face of it, was not so thin. They had physical evidence, putative motive, even eyewitnesses. This was not, they had argued, some high-handed political vendetta come home to roost. Nobody had been out to get Jennifer Witt – the evidence had persuaded the grand jury to indict her, and it well might persuade a jury to convict.
The charges involving her first husband Ned made it much worse. The evidence might be older, but the coincidence factor, if that's what it was, to say nothing of the presence of significant insurance money in both instances, would be daunting to overcome.
At the same time, though, Jennifer's position gave Freeman a strategy and Hardy a concrete direction. Given their client's demands, there was only one course, time-honored and true, that they could take. Find the holes, if not in the facts, then in the arguments interpreting them.
The fog had burned off but, lest SanFrancisco bask in sunny warmth, the wind had come up off the ocean. Hardy stood in the outside stairway four stories up the Hall of Justice, listening to it howl through the structure that one day would be the new jail just across the way.
Abe Glitsky opened the door and stepped outside. Papers swirled and dust eddied. He took it all in. "I've got a nice office not a hundred feet away. Remember?"
"Powell's in there."
Glitsky nodded. "All too true. He works in this building. Which, I might add, you don't. Exactly what are we doing here, Diz?"
"We're having a secret meeting, Abe. I wondered if you felt like taking a ride with me?"
Glitsky's hands were in the pockets of his parka. He pursed his lips and the scar through his lips burned white. "Middle of the week, middle of the day, sure. I'll just take off. Nobody'll miss me. I don't do anything anyway."
"Abe, I need you to prevent me from committing a felony, which if I do and get caught-"
Hardy stopped him. "Please, Abe, this is a critical time for my life and career. If I commit this felony, and if I get caught, I'll lose my license, get disbarred, Frannie will probably divorce me, the kids will have to live knowing their father's a criminal. Even talking about it, my life flashes before my very eyes…"
"Your very eyes." Glitsky shook his head and the wind gusted.
"Come on," Hardy said. "Won't even take an hour."
"Why do I do these things?" Glitsky asked.
"I think you've got a deep-seated need to prove yourself. I worry about it sometimes. I really do. A guy your age."
"My age is your age."
"I know, but I'm younger. I look better, too. It's funny but it's true."
Glitsky chewed his cheek. "Sad."
They were in the lobby of the Bank of America at the corner of Haight and Cole. Hardy had given Jennifer's power of attorney to the vice-president, a young black woman named Isabel Reed who did not appear to have any problem with Glitsky's age or looks. She had been checking on the ATM withdrawal on the morning of December 28 and returned with the news that the account had been accessed at 9:43 a.m., and since they were talking about times anyway, she'd be getting off at 4:30 if there was anything else they needed to talk about…
Hardy said no, he thought that was about it, that she'd been a big help. He nudged Glitsky and they started to turn to go..
"I'm here every day," Ms. Reed offered, "if you need anything else."
"You know…" Hardy stopped, just now remembering. "There is something if you wouldn't mind. Abraham, you think we should calibrate this thing?"
This, as Hardy had explained to Glitsky on the way out here, was why he had to come along. Glitsky's badge got them access not just to Jennifer's account but to the whole automated system. While an obliging bank employee ran receipts out of the ATM, Hardy dialed POP-CORN – the number provided by Pacific Bell that police used for the "official time" of emergency calls to 911 – and checked it against the bank's computerized clock on the ATM.
They found that there was a three-minute difference between the times – 2:11 at the bank and 2:14 from Pac Bell.
"Is that important?" Ms. Reed asked Abe. Hardy had ceases to exist altogether.
"It could be crucial," Glitsky admitted, "in this case. But you should have it checked in any event. Records aren’t much good if they're not accurate."
Ms. Reed, nodding and attentive receiving this wisdom, thanked them both and gave Glitsky one of her cards. Then, clearly as an afterthought, she pulled out one for Hardy, too.
Outside, the gale blew and both men leaned into it. "That's why you do this," Hardy said through his clenched teeth. "Records aren't much good if they're not accurate."
Glitsky, happily married with three children, couldn't stop smiling, something he did perhaps twice a year.
Driving back downtown, Glitsky finally spoke. "I give up," he said. "What felony have I prevented by this astute police work?"
Hardy answered straight-faced, "Plan B was for me to dress up like a Ninja, break into the bank in the middle of the night and do the cross-check. Plan B wasn't very good. I didn't think it would work."
Glitsky shook his head, withholding comment.
Hardy did some figuring. When Mrs. Barbieto had called 911 at 9:40, it had been 9:37 at Haight and Cole. If Jennifer had left two minutes before the 911 call at 9:35, which was Mrs. Barbieto's testimony, she would have to have run 1.7 miles to the bank and access her ATM at 9:45, eight minutes later. She couldn't have done that. If, on the other hand, as Hardy surmised, it was more like five minutes between the shots and Mrs. Barbieto's call to emergency, Jennifer would have had eleven minutes, three plus eight, which was fast but, Hardy thought, doable.
Glitsky, not knowing why, had been right. Ms. Reed's ATM information could prove to be important, maybe even crucial.
He had to go upstairs to the jail again, because although Jennifer had given him permission to enter her house, he had neglected to pick up the key, which the sheriff was keeping with the rest of her effects. Hardy needed Jennifer's signature so the sheriff would release the key to him.
"Mr. Hardy, is it?"
The hand was out and Hardy took it. It was a surprisingly weak grip for such a big man – Ken Lightner, Mr. Clairol with his brown hair and red beard, Jennifer's psychiatrist, was standing inside the bars by the elevator as the door opened.
"I was just visiting Jennifer. We've got to get her out of here. She doesn't belong in that… you are here to see her, aren't you?"
Hardy explained about the key. He didn't warm to this man but he could be polite.
"Actually," Lightner said as the elevator closed, "perhaps it's fortunate that you're here. I was going to call you."
"If it's about Jennifer you should try David Freeman. He's her lawyer in this matter."
"Well, Freeman," Lightner paused, began again. "Jennifer seems to have a higher opinion of you."
Hardy shrugged. What was he supposed to say to that? He'd let Lightner figure out where he was going.
"I mean, you're representing her, too, aren't you?"
"I have to tell you that if either you or Jennifer thinks I'm anywhere near the trial lawyer that David Freeman is, you're both mistaken. David's a little abrasive, okay, but that's mostly just his style. He doesn't get beat too often, and that's where Jennifer's interests lie."
"What if she just likes… feels more comfortable with you?"
There wasn't much room in the area between the elevator door and the bars, but Hardy backed away a step. "This is not a comfortable situation, Doctor. I'm working with David, for David, I'm not that involved in Jennifer's defense on the guilt stage, and I'm a little confused about your role in all this. Did Jennifer ask you to talk to me?"
"Not directly, no. I'm not interested in offending you, Mr. Hardy, but my main concern is Jennifer. She's lost, upset, grief-stricken… she's very, very unhappy-"
"She's in jail, Doctor."
Lightner turned his head abruptly. Impatient. "No, no. I don't mean her situation now, here." He got a grip on himself, spoke more quietly. "Look, Mr. Hardy, she can't stay here. I don't think she'd survive a year, whatever it might be for the trial, in there. Have you seen… of course you have. You know what it's like. And Mr. Freeman tells her to forget about bail. Why? Is that in her best interest?"
Hardy was losing some of his own patience. "It's about reality, Doctor. I'd advise the same thing if I were the primary cousel representing Jennifer. I'm afraid she's not going to get bail. She's not getting out."
Lightner shook his head. "If she stays in jail I believe it's not unlikely that she will kill herself."
"You're talking to the wrong person. You should be talking to the judge… or the legislature. Besides, I think that's a little extreme. Jail's rough, no question, but I certainly didn't see any sign of suicidal depression this morning and I was with her for two hours."
"Would you know it if you saw it, Mr. Hardy?"
Hardy knew he had a point there, but the man was getting to him. "I think so. Now if you'll excuse me-"
"No, listen, listen please."
"I'm sorry. Maybe we've gotten off on the wrong foot, but somebody's got to understand what's really happening here," Lightner said.
"And you know?"
"I know. I've been treating this woman for four years. I've had to prescribe anti-depressant drugs during crises. Jennifer is clinically depressed."
An obvious if ingenious thought occurred to Hardy. "Well, Doctor, if she'd been depressed for four years, it isn't jail that's doing it to her." Hardy glanced at his watch. "Now I've really got to go. Sorry."
Lightner touched his arm and took a deep breath, as though making up his mind about a major decision. "Suppose I told you," he said, his voice low now, "that she may have actually done it. Don't you want to know why? It's what this is all about."
"You said you noticed it yourself… one minute she's so smart, almost playful, the next she's like a beaten victim – head down, uninvolved, at sea. She has no appetite, she's subject to extreme mood changes, lethargic to hyper-active. Nightmares ruin her sleep. All of these are classic signs of clinical depression."
Hardy had gone with Lightner to pick up the release – the reason he'd come up here in the first place – and they had ridden together down to the third floor, the DA's floor. Hardy, who used to be employed in the building, knew a few of the private spaces, and he brought Lightner now into the reporter's room just off the hall by the elevators.
Here, on a Thursday afternoon, there was no peace. No reporters, no other people. A comfortable clutter amid recycled school desks and old pitted library tables.
But Hardy's main interest wasn't in Lightner's diagnosis of Jennifer. "It still doesn't mean she killed anybody."
Lightner was sitting forward on one of the tables next to the slatted window. "No, it doesn't of itself, but I'm telling you now… I'm afraid she did kill her husband."
"You're sure of that? She tell you?"
"No, but I know."
"And her boy?"
"I don't know how that happened. It could have been a mistake. She might have thought he was Larry."
"A seven-year-old boy? Her own son?"
"I said I don't know how it happened. The boy might have gotten between them, the gun went off, I don't know, some terrible accident."
Hardy didn't like to admit it, had in fact avoided this conclusion each time it had surfaced before now, but Lightner had a point. Every day people got killed by mistake with firearms. You put a gun in the picture, you got the possibility of an accident. Hardy could invent half a dozen scenarios himself that might have resulted, accidentally, in Matt's death.
"Except she denies it," Hardy said. "But, for the sake of argument, how do you know? Why?"
Finally, an open question. Lightner pushed his well-tailored bulk back onto the table. Sunlight cut steeply through the motes by the one window, fell across the psychiatrist's face, highlighting reds in the handsome beard.
He sighed, his fists clenched. "The simple answer," he said, "is to stop Larry from beating her."
Hardy was cramped into the seat of a one-piece, old-fashioned school desk, complete with built-in inkwell, around which he was running his finger, leaning back, legs stretched out straight in front of him, crossed at the ankles. "She says he didn't beat her. She says they fought like everybody else but-"
"Of course, she says that. But it's not true."
"It's not true," Hardy repeated. "How do I know it's not true?" He held up his round-the-inkwell hand. "No, I'm not starting in again. I'm asking if you've got any proof, any corroboration. Jennifer's admission? Anything? I presume you're telling me this to give her an out, an excuse that might clear her if she did it."
Lightner nodded. "Yes, but I'm on very tenuous ground here, Mr. Hardy. I know that. Well, I've persuaded myself, that I can tell you some of what I know, things you might find out from other sources given enough time. But I'm afraid I can't tell you how I know it."
It took a moment before Hardy said, "Privilege."
There it was, that familiar double-edged sword. Lightner's head inclined a bit. "Without my input, there still should be records that point to it. She never said, but I believe she must have switched physicians. They're mandated to report."
He was right about that, Hardy knew. When the same person, a woman, say, or a child, visited a doctor with burns, contusions, abrasions, bruises, saying they fell of their bicycle, down the stairs, walked into a door, whatever – if it looked suspicious the physician by law had to notify somebody in law enforcement. There was compelling reason to suspect abuse.
Hardy asked the obvious question. "But you knew Jennifer was being beaten. Why didn't you report it?"
Lightner was still on his hands, an unhappy look on his face. "We're exempt from the mandate. She refused to let me. She was my patient. I was her psychiatrist. It was her right."
"So she changed her doctors so they wouldn't suspect. Or report it. Anything else?"
"Neighbors might know. How many times have they moved? Sometimes that's a clue."
Hardy pointed out that all this might be fine, but Jennifer herself was the most likely source of corroboration about whether or not she was a battered wife, and she was denying it. "You'll agree," he said, "this poses something of a problem for us."
"I see that, yes, of course."
"I just thought you had to know. As you said, "It's got to be her defense. It's why she did it."
Hardy tried to straighten up in the tiny chair. He put his elbows on the desk. "Dr. Lightner, I've got to remind you, she denies both battery and that she killed anybody. We went over this again and again this morning and she isn't going to go with any battered wife defense – not with Freeman, not with me, not with anybody. And this leads me to the question… Why in the world wouldn't she just admit to being battered? As you said, people are increasingly getting off on this defense these days. The precedents are in place. We told her that. So why, since it's got a good chance, maybe the best chance, to save her life, won't she agree to it?"
For a second, Hardy thought he'd heard wrong. "Say what?"
"She's embarrassed. She doesn't want anybody to know that she's the kind of person who could live with being beaten. Why wouldn't she just leave?"
Now Lightner leaned forward, into it. "But don't you see? That's the problem. They can't leave! I know this might come across as socialized slaptrap to you, but in some cultures, it's more socially acceptable than in others to take this kind of domestic abuse, but it's not among upper-class whites in our culture."
"Well, now she herself is upper class. She's made it and she's not going back."
"What if she's convicted? What's she got?"
"She's still got her self-image."
"And you're telling me that's more important than her life?"
"I don't think she's ever faced that."
Hardy realized that Lightner could be right. Stuffed into the tiny desk, his posture was getting to him. He wedged himself out, standing.
"So Jennifer won't admit she was beaten… battered, essentially because she's embarrassed."
"That's right. Embarrassed may be too weak a word. Mortified is better, that she was battered, almost ritually beaten and, unbelievably, maybe even to herself, stayed around to take it." Lightner slid off the table.
Hardy was rubbing his shoulder. "I don't mean to offend here, doctor, but is any of this psycho-babble? I mean, how many of your conclusions, assuming I independently discover some facts, can I depend on?"
Lightner didn't appear offended. He nodded. Maybe he thought it was a good question. "All of them, I'd say."
In the morning daylight the Witt home was impressive. The previous night, when Hardy and Frannie had driven by, there had been a sense of solidity to Olympia Way, high up on Twin Peaks. Most of the street bordered the Midtown Terrace Playground. It had been quiet, almost ghostly. Working street lights cast their beams through the early spring foliage of the trees that overhung the street. Hedges seemed trimmed and full-grown.
In sunlight the feeling of sheltered enclave was even stronger. Hardy got out of his car and stood looking at Jennifer's home, two lots from the park, from the south side of the street. To the west, the Pacific glittered, and just north, Sutro Tower stretched its rusted arms to the sky. Hardy thought some of the two- and three-story houses could sit comfortably on Embassy Row – landscaped and majestic, these were the homes of people who might not miss three hundred thousand dollars if it disappeared slowly enough.
The Witt's hedge – at perhaps three feet – wasn't as tall as some of the others, though it was as well kept as any. A white picket fence fronted it. The gate to the fence was shut, but the hedge turned ninety degrees up both sides of the straight brick path to the front door.
Hardy had to remind himself that until two days ago Jennifer had lived here, coming and going, apparently unaware that the grand jury was deciding that there was sufficient evidence to indict her for murder. It was an unsettling thought.
But no more unsettling than when he turned the key. A dog from somewhere nearby barked and kept barking. Hardy stood waiting for its owner to come and quiet it down, check to see what had set it off. That didn't happen. In fact, nothing happened, and the barking continued. Hardy could have been a burglar with a sledge hammer instead of a lawyer with a key and no one – apparently – would have questioned him.
And this was the block that had produced two eyewitnesses for the time of the murder and more of the FedEx delivery truck? Hardy thought Terrell must be one persuasive interrogator.
Inside, after another minute, the barking stopped.
The house was white. The foyer was of white Italian marble with pink striations. Soft furnishings were modern and white, tables and racks were black cast-iron. Everything sat on light champagne wall-to-wall carpeting. On the walls Hardy recognized one of the Mapplethorpe's that had caused the stir, along with a print of Goya's Mother Eating Her Child. Up close, he studied a couple of other prints or originals that he wouldn't have hung in a locked darkroom, much less in the living room of a home with a child.
On his yellow pad he made a note to make sure David Freeman kept the media out of here. He had to assume the stuff reflected Larry's tastes, not hers.
Downstairs everything was spotless, antiseptic. The kitchen – a black-and-white checkerboard tile and black-and-white fixtures – looked as though it had never been used. Copper pots gleamed from their hanging cast-iron rack over the island stove.
The silence hung heavily – Hardy found himself walking on the balls of his feet as he moved through the other downstairs rooms. The dining room with its black lacquer table and six chairs. A library with mostly medical books. No novels, a lot of history and biography. There was a tiny sitting room with a fireplace and a loveseat with a magazine stand end-table. But there were no magazines. A guest bedroom. Hardy pulled down the quilt on the bed, there was no sheet under it.
He stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Jennifer had been living here? There was no sign of life. He jotted another note to ask her if she had stayed somewhere else during the past months. And if so, where?
A month after he and Frannie had moved in together he had bought her one of those little tiles at the Ghirardelli Art Fair that read: A Clean House Is A Sign of A Wasted Life. That tile hung proudly in their kitchen. He didn't need to think he needed to search for where Jennifer kept hers.
Upstairs was more of the same. To the left was what must have been Matt's bedroom, the bed now made, toys neatly arranged. The evening sun was going down, bathing the room in an orange glow. Off this was a full bath, sea-horse stencils on the wall – minimal as it was, so far it was the only sign of any comfort in the house.
Hardy passed the stairway again, stopping to look down at the living and dining rooms below him. White. Black. Mirrors and metal and a growing dusk. Whatever else he had to do, he wanted to be done and out of here in a hurry.
The master bedroom was a surprise. The yellow police tape was still there, no longer in place across the door but lying on the rug. He stepped over it and walked to the middle of the room.
After the police department's technicians had finished with their forensics and the cleaners had repaired the damage, Hardy was suddenly certain that Jennifer had not set foot in this room. There were folded sheets and blankets on the bed's bare mattress, towels on the cabinet by the bathroom door, balls of dust in the corners.
He didn't know if he imagined the remains of the bloodstains – it was getting darker so he flipped on the overhead light. It went out with a pop. There were other lights on night tables on either side of the recessed headboard to the bed, and quickly – jumpy – he got to one of them and hit the button. That was better. He walked around the bed and turned on the second one. Leaning down, he checked the white rug, running his hand over what might have been a stain. As part of him had known, nothing came up, yet it strangely relieved him.
Hardy stood, more steady than he'd been. Turning on the adjoining bathroom's light, he looked in. Again, no sign that anyone had been in there since it had been cleaned. Turning off the lights by the bed, he stopped at the hallway door for at last glance into the shadowy room where the murders had occurred.
At the end of the hallway there was another door, the last room on the left. The overhead light, which stayed on this time, revealed an impersonal study with credenza, files, a short bookshelf filled with medical and business periodicals. The centerpiece of the room was a neatly organized black tabletop desk with a new leather-bound green blotter. Hardy sat at it.
Evidently no one had been in here either. The dust was thick on the tabletop. Hardy wondered if the police had inventoried this room, realizing there may have been no need to. Jennifer, he remembered, had provided the damning inventory, "forgetting" that the gun was missing.
(And, of course, if she hadn't ever gone back into that bedroom, she might have been able to assume it hadn't been missing. This could be vital. He had to ask her, and he scribbled some more.)
Sitting, the sun all but gone now through the louvered window over the desk, Hardy tried to imagine what living here must have been like. The degree of control and discipline everywhere palpable was, he thought, the kind of environment that could have produced internal, and external, paroxysms, convulsions. There just wasn't any place for release, even a gradual release. When emotions got too tightly wound here, they wouldn't unwind, they'd explode.
He had jotted his last notes on his yellow pad on the desk blotter, and as he stared at the rim of the ocean he realized he'd been picking at the blotter with his left hand. In the upper left corner, under the triangle of leather, a scrap of paper protruded. He pulled it out.
It was a piece of lined paper from a pocket-sized spiral notebook. The side was frayed where it had been torn off, which seemed a little out of character for Larry Witt – those irregularities in the edge, Hardy was beginning to suppose, should have been intolerable to him. He would have cut them off with the precise little scissors on his Swiss Army knife.
He smiled scornfully at his imagination. There was something more immediate at hand – on the paper was the date "December 23" and the single word "No!!!" which, in addition to the three exclamation points, was underlined twice and circled. And under that was a telephone number with a 213 area code – downtown Los Angeles.
Hardy dialed the number.
Naturally, he thought. He identified himself and asked to speak to the office manager. His watch read five-fifty on a Thursday night, but law firms never slept – there was no hesitation. The receptionist said that Ms. Klein would be right with him.
It wasn't immediate but soon enough. Either Ms. Klein had had an extremely bad day or she was someone Hardy wouldn't want to party with. "I'm sorry," she was saying, "the message wasn't very clear. You are?"
Hardy explained again – that he was representing a client in the Bay Area and among the papers in her house had been a document on which he'd found the phone number he'd called. He wondered what the connection might be. The firm was? He figured that he could play her game as well as anyone.
"Crane amp; Crane. And your client is?"
Ms. Klein paused. "Well, the name isn't familiar to me." A tired laugh: "But that doesn't mean anything."
"How about the name Larry Witt? He was her husband. Maybe one of your attorneys would know? Your managing partner? Could I…"
Abruptly, her voice seemed to break. "No. No, you can't!" Another pause, so long that Hardy thought she might have hung up.
"Oh, oh, I'm sorry, you'll have to excuse me, please, I'm just to myself. This past week… I shouldn't even be saying this…"
"Is everything all right?"
"No, Mr… Hardy, is it? No, everything is not all right."
"I'm sorry," Hardy said. The tension in these big corporate law firms must be as bad as the rumors, he thought. "I'll try back later."
"No, later won't do either. I mean…" Now a sob broke. "I'm so sorry, I mean, Mr. Simpson won't be back later. He's, he was the managing partner. He's dead. He was killed."
Mesmerized, Hardy listened as the facts trickled out. Mr. Simpson was Simpson Crane, lately managing partner of Crane amp; Crane. About a week ago he and his wife were gunned down at their home in Pacific Palisades. Simpson Crane had been an anti-labor attorney and he had been negotiating some contracts. The suspicion was, she said, that organized labor had hired someone to kill Crane, but the police didn't have many leads and said it was mostly a theory. Simpson's son, Todd, was now running the firm for the time being, but, as Hardy could imagine, it was a very difficult time.
By the time Hardy hung up it was full dark outside. He folded the sheet of paper and put it in his wallet. Leaving the light on in the study, he made his way into the hall and down the stairway, across the marble of the foyer and, blessedly, at last, outside.
"Jesus," he whispered.
Driving home, partly to escape the feeling of unease that had clung to him at the Witt's, Hardy allowed himself to be disgusted that he had used the word "document" to describe the piece of spiral notebook paper than now resided in his wallet. He distinctly remembered the first time he'd come on the word "document" in his law studies. The verbiage, the pretension, the self-conscious importance – in short, everything about the definition struck him as so ludicrous, so plain stupid that he had memorized it (the alphabetical order made it easier), vowing never to become a lawyer who would use it:
"Documents" is used herein in the broadest sense and includes all written, printed, typed, graphic or otherwise recorded matter, however produced or reproduced, including non-identical copies, preliminary, intermediate, and final drafts, writings, records, and recordings of every kind and description, whether inscribed by hand or by mechanical, electronic, microfilm, photographic or other means, as well as phonic (such as tape recordings) or visual reproductions of all statements, conversations or events, and including without limitation, abstracts; address books; advertising material; agreements; analyses of any kind; appointment books; brochures; calendars; charts; circulars; computer cards; contracts; correspondence; data books; desk calendars; diagrams; diaries; directories; discs; drawings of any type; estimates; evaluations; financial statement or calculations; graphs; guidelines; house organs or publications; instructions; inter-office or intra-office communications; invoices; job descriptions; ledgers; letters; licenses; lists; manuals; maps; memoranda of any type; microfilm; minutes; movies; notes; notebooks; opinions; organization charts; pamphlets; permits; photographs; pictures; plans; projections; promotional materials; publications; purchase orders; schedules; specifications; standards; statistical analyses; stenographers' notebooks; studies of any kind; summaries; tabulations; tapes; telegrams; teletype messages; videotapes; vouchers; and working drawings, papers and files.
And a partridge in a pear tree.
And now this piece of paper with a date, a phone number and the word "No!!!" written on it had come out of his mouth, like water through a sieve, without an editing thought, as a "document."
It didn't thrill him.
Rhea, the woman who resembled Jennifer Witt, had been yelling and swearing into the telephone at her Jimmy for so long that, finally, when the guard had come in and taken the phone from her, hanging it up, she just shook her head and walked silently back to her cell. Jennifer, in the next cell, propped herself on an elbow on her cot.
"That didn't sound too good."
"That shit!" After the thirty-second break, Rhea was getting her vocabulary back. "That cocksucker Jimmer says I've got to wait another few days, maybe a week in here! Maybe a week! Shit! If he's fucking somebody else I'll kill the son of a bitch."
"What did he say?" Jennifer hoped her calm would be contagious. That language was all right when everybody was laughing, teasing, being together. But when you mixed anger in, it reminded her of too many other times – with Larry, with others, with what came next. Even hearing Rhea like this, she was getting cramps in her stomach. She curled her legs up, trying to get comfortable on the stained mattress, trying to keep the cramp from seizing. "About bail?"
"That shit!" Rhea picked up the plastic cup that held her plastic utensils and her disposable razor blade and her toothbrush and threw it against the bars.
"Rhea, stop! Please stop."
She did stop raving, stopped swearing. But when she did it left her standing at the edge of her cell, where she crumbled to the floor, crying quietly.
After a minute or two Jennifer uncurled herself from her cot and went to the side of her cell. "He couldn't get bail?"
Rhea shook her head quietly, back and forth. "He said it would be a couple of days at the most. Now he says without me his income is down and it's taking longer. How do you like that? Without me his income is down!" She lapsed again into quiet tears.
"How much would it take?" Jennifer asked.
The crying slowed, went to sniffles, stopped. "What?"
"How much did you say your bail was? Five thousand?"
She nodded. "Why?"
Jennifer sat on the floor, knees up, arms wrapped around them. She had already learned a lot about the working of the jail. Clara knew a lot, so did Mercedes. If you had the stomach and the money for it, if you were desperate enough, guards could be bribed, things could be done. It had happened before, many times.
"I don't know for sure," Jennifer said, "but maybe I can help him get it." She spoke as quietly as she could, venturing a glance over to Rhea. If anyone else heard her, she wanted to be able to deny having said anything. But Rhea was listening, her mouth half open, disbelieving. "Of course you'd have to help me if you could."
Halfway out from Van Ness to the beach, Miz Carter's Mudhouse had been a landmark on California Street for half a century. The "mud" was coffee, sometimes thick as Turkish, and before espresso caught on with the yuppies in the late seventies the Mudhouse was the best place for java in the western half of the city. Miz Carter's daughter, Louanne, still made her mud the old way, loose ground beans stirred into boiling water, then strained as it was poured. The stuff could jolt you right up.
Which Hardy needed. He and Frannie had been awakened no fewer than six times by their two young darlings doing their tag-team number, Rebecca with an ear infection and low-grade fever, Vincent wanting to be fed. It was fun, but all and all, the Hardy's agreed they'd had better times.
Glitsky's description of Walter Terrell – white guy, brown hair, mustache – wasn't exactly on the money. He was swarthier, Mediterranean somehow, not like the guy Hardy had been thinking about from school. Hardy had put his briefcase on the table to identify himself, and Terrell came and slid in across from him.
He was younger than Hardy had expected, maybe thiry-two or thereabouts. At forty-one, Hardy didn't feel old, but it was disconcerting that so many people he worked with were starting to be so much younger, and that he noticed it.
Terrell wore new Reeboks, a worn pair of Levi's and an ironed dress shirt with thin maroon stripes under his Member's Only jacket that fit him neatly. In spite of Glitsky's feelings about Terrell and his theories, the guy must have put together some kind of record if he'd already made Homicide.
After he'd had his coffee poured, Terrell took a sip and shuddered, adding sugar like there was no tomorrow. "What kind of name is Dismas?" He tried the mud again. He kept stirring.
Hardy explained for the thousandth time that Dismas had been the name of the good thief on Calvary. He did not mention that he was also the patron saint of murderers. "Only thing I can figure, my folks wanted to punish me for some reason. When I think they could have named me Bill, or Jack…"
Terrell's face cracked. "Yeah, I know, anything but Sue." Trying his coffee again, he finally put his spoon down. "This stuff's awesome," he said. "People drink this every day?"
"Awesome." He motioned to Hardy's briefcase. "So'd you check out Ned?" Hardy nodded. He'd gone over the coroner's exhumation report on Edward (Ned) Hollis last night after they'd put the kids down, further endearing him to his wife, who after a day with no adult company had more or less expected him to share the evening with her.
The smile and the aw-shucks manner weren't entirely convincing. This was one smart cop. He could be as friendly as you please, but he wasn’t going to be sandbagged by any smarty-pants defense attorney, even if he happened to be a friend of Abe Glitsky.
But Hardy merely nodded again. There was no battle to be won here. "I'm trying to get a handle on Ned, I suppose. Jennifer doesn't seem to have much to say about him. They found the atropine?"
Terrell pointed a finger at the briefcase. "That what it says?"
'Yeah, but so what?"
It was the first time Hardy had surprised him. "What do you mean, so what?"
"They find a concentration of atropine on the front of the right thigh? Which indicates it might have been injected?"
"All right, we'll grant that, but what's to say Jennifer injected him?"
Terrell tried the coffee again, ignoring its awesomeness. "He didn't shoot himself up. Atropine doesn't make you high."
"Okay, but again, so what? Maybe he was trying to kill himself. Maybe he succeeded. What I'm asking is if there's anything I'm missing here, because I don't see why this got charged as a murder."
Terrell was visibly holding himself back. His face was becoming flushed. "This got charged as a murder 'cause it was a murder. Your Jennifer aced him for the seventy-five grand."
Hardy tried to keep it loose. "I'm not saying she didn't. I'm just wondering what proof… if you've got any proof that she was the one who gave Ned the shot? I mean, how do you even know she was in the room?"
"She was in the room. She got him tanked up on booze and coke 'til he passed out, then she bonked him with the needle. Now he's dead, the coroner finds lethal coca-ethylene and forgets about scanning for whatever else might have killed him, like the atropine." He stabbed a finger on the table. "That's what happened, Mr. Hardy. You can bet on it."
Getting back to "Mr. Hardy" wasn't a good sign, and it wasn't Hardy's intention to alienate the inspector. "I'm not saying it didn't. The DA bought it – they charged it. But it seems to me they had to have more."
On the defense now, but softening slightly, Terrell the new homicide cop was anxious to show he'd done it right. "There was more, they did get more. I got 'em Harlan Poole, didn't I?"
"Her lover, the dentist? How'd you get to him?"
"I saw his name in a couple of statements Jennifer made in Ned's file. So I went and talked to him." Eager to explain his technique, Terrell leaned forward across the table. "The thing about this police work is sometimes, you know, you got to have some intuition. I mean, sometimes you just know what went down, right? So you go on that, tweak things a little, and you get somewhere."
"And you tweaked Poole?"
Terrell obviously enjoyed the memory. "Wasn't much of a tweak. The guy's successful, maybe forty-something, wife and three kids. I told him if he cooperated, told us what he knew, we'd try to keep a low profile on him. Guy cracked like a nut."
"And said what?"
"Said he missed the atropine one day after Jennifer had been in the office for a little late night nookie. Evidently they did it in or on – that guy and his wife don't do it much that way anymore. Anyway, he didn't put it together until hubby Ned turned up dead, and then he figured Jennifer had done it and it scared the piss out of him, so gradually, he says, he dumped her."
"Because he thought she'd killed Ned?"
"Yeah, because she killed Ned."
Hardy sat back. To grab some time, he lifted his cup and knocked back the dregs, making a face. There was a crucial something missing here. "Let me get this straight," he said. "When Ned turned up dead, Poole concluded that Jennifer had killed him, is that right?"
"Well, isn't that a bit of a leap? I mean, he must have had some kind of hit this was on her mind – something? Right?"
"Sure. She'd talked about it."
"Talked about killing Ned?" Hardy shook his head. "If Poole got scared off afterward, why didn't he see it coming and dump her before?"
Terrell was engaged now, thinking it through, elbows on the table. "I guess he didn't see it coming. She didn't talk about it as a plan or anything. I think afterward he just put it together."
"But why? Why would it even enter his mind?"
"Because she'd talked about leaving him, about wouldn't it be wonderful if he died, the insurance, all that."
"Leaving him and wishing he'd die aren't the same as actually killing him."
"Okay, but she'd tried to leave him before – a couple of times – and he'd come after her and beat the shit out of her."
Bingo. "Ned beat her, too? Is there any proof of that?"
"You mean did she report it, anything like that? Get serious."
This was good stuff, and possibly true, but Hardy was more than half-certain that all of it was inadmissible because it was hearsay, and twice removed hearsay at that – Dr. Poole saying that Jennifer had told him that Ned had beaten her. Nevertheless, it was a psychological bombshell. If it was true that Jennifer had killed Ned because he was beating her – to stop him and to get the insurance she could figure she was entitled to – who wouldn't believe she had done the same with Larry?
Because the argument was compelling, the temptation to compare the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Larry and Ned would be overwhelming, and Hardy found himself hoping that Powell and the prosecution would get caught up in the symmetry and pursue it. Because it gave her a sympathetic motive in both cases.
But he didn't mention this to Terrell. Instead, he told him he thought what he had was pretty good.
Friends now, or at least amicable adversaries, they stood by the counter waiting for their change, making small talk, Hardy asking if Terrell had ever noticed the funny coincidences that seemed to happen all the time when you got deep into a case.
"Yeah, I know," Terrell said, "it's weird. Couple of months ago, I'm still in burglary, I get a call out in the Mission and I go down there and I'm checking out a broken window when another window across the alley opens up and some guy yells, 'Hey, Wally!' I look up and it's some guy I played ball with in high school. Amazing, but you're right. It happens all the time."
Hardy told him about the death of Simpson Crane in Los Angeles. "Is that strange or what? Here I'm at a murder victim's house, I find a phone number and call it, and I get another murder victim."
That stopped Terrell by the door. Maybe he just wasn't primed yet to go out into the swirling fog, but Hardy didn't think that was it. "How'd you say this guy – Crane? – how'd he get it?"
"They think it was some union job, a professional hit. Just like Jennifer says with Larry. Hell of a coincidence, huh?"
Terrell shook his head, almost as though he were trying to clear it, shake this rogue thought out completely. "No, Larry wasn't no hit. There wasn't any hit man. Jennifer did Larry."
Hardy didn't want to smile when he set the hook. Give this man a theory, Glitsky had said. "Still, you've got to admit, it's interesting."
Terrell tried to shrug it off. "Sure, but like I said, this shit happens all the time."
"You're right." Hardy pushed the door open, steeling himself against the cold. "You're right, it does."
A seven-year-old Matthew Witt smiled up in full color and perfect focus. Whoever had taken the school photos had done a good job, capturing the personality behind the impish face. Whatever constrictions had worked on Matt in his sterile home, they apparently hadn't defeated him. There was a real smile in the eyes, some kidlike sense of jauntiness – maybe he'd just said something smart to the photographer and was proud of himself. But it wasn't a wise-ass look – it was friendly, open. A nice little boy aiming to please.
David Freeman was in the shower in his apartment and Hardy slumped deep in an ancient red leather chair near one of the living room windows, trying and failing to tear himself away from Matt. There were lots of other pictures in the folder that he held on his lap, and he had already gone through quite a few when he go to the boy.
He had black hair, neatly combed and parted except for a cowlick. He was wearing a green-and-white-striped T-shirt with a soft collar, up on one side and down on the other like puppies' ears. There was a gap between his two front teeth. Freckles across the bridge of his nose. Long eyelashes. The beginning of a dimple. The laughing eyes were a deep green.
Hardy sat back, pulling at the skin on his face, staring without seeing anything out the window into the fog. He didn't know how much time had gone by when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"There's nothing we can do about that."
Freeman, in a frayed terrycloth bathrobe, gave Hardy's shoulder another gentle shake. He was, at times surprisingly, perhaps sympathetic – the tone said so – but ultimately pragmatic. If you couldn't affect anything, if you couldn't act, then by Freeman's definition there was nothing to be done. Hardy didn't agree – it might not produce any tangible result but he thought you could at least grieve.
Barefoot, unshaven, his wet hair in a gray-and-brown mess, Freeman walked across his living room to the breakfast nook, where on a shining mahogany table he had spread his own working papers, legal pads, binders, boxes of cassette tapes. Currently working a trial, planning for a new one, cleaning up the loose ends and appeals of trials gone by – was this what Hardy's life was going to become? He got a glimpse of it from Frannie's perspective and wondered if by getting involved with David and Jennifer he was making a mistake.
Then he looked down at Matt. God… if Jennifer had killed him, even by accident, even if he'd just gotten in the way…
But what if it wasn't that, what if Jennifer were telling the truth? Then someone else was out there. Someone who needed to die and was walking around, letting Jennifer go through this hell, leaving Matt unavenged.
Hardy did believe in vengeance – in severe, purposeful vengeance. It was what had drawn him into police work, then into the prosecution business in the first place. But, and this way he knew he was becoming a lawyer, he now believed that before the vengeance he – personally – had to eliminate any reasonable doubt.
And this was what drove him now – not to sell his soul as a mouthpiece for some prosecution or defense posture, for some legal opinion, not to argue because he could prevail, but to uncover the truth of the matter, however it came out.
He put Matt's picture face down and went to the next one.
Freeman lived on the corner of Taylor and Pine, one steep block down from the peak of Nob Hill, a floor above one of the oldest and best French restaurants in the City. Freeman kept his own personal wine cellar in the restaurant and averaged perhaps ten meals there every month.
His own apartment was modest in size and conveniences – two bedrooms, living room, kitchen with eating nook. In spite of his income, the place resisted any not to modern technology. Freeman still used a rotary wall-mounted telephone in the kitchen, and whenever he played his classical music, which was the only kind he listened to, it was on long-playing 33a rpm records that he'd bought with his then brand new stereo system in the early sixties. The couches and chairs in the living room were comfortable, cracked old red leather; the coffee and end tables were of some dark wood with lion's claw feet. The lamps all had shades, and most of them were three-way.
His current trial had been continued – put on hold – until the following Monday because the prosecuting attorney had a toothache and needed to see the dentist. So he'd left a message at Sutter Street that Hardy should come up – it was only a six-block walk – to discuss some Jennifer Witt matters before the weekend.
The crime-scene shots had been in the file, of course, and Hardy knew there were people who turned to look at them first, before they did any reading. He wasn't one of them.
There were twenty-seven pictures of the room where the murders had been committed as the photo team had found it, although many were shots of essentially the same thing from a slightly different perspective. These photographs were, as usual, competently done. By design, they didn't strive for artful composition, but the focus was perfect, the color sharp, the angles inclusive.
There were also eight shots each of Larry and Matt, of the bodies and their wounds on the autopsy table.
Hardy and Freeman, separately, had gone through them all one by one. It was quiet work.
When they finished they spread out an even dozen of the crime-scene photos for a closer inspection together.
Both father and son had been shot one time each with a. 38 caliber automatic. The bullets, in common with the five that had been discovered in the clip later, had hollow points, common enough among people who had bought their weapons for home defense. Sometimes the argument went, you only got one shot off, and that shot needed to do as much damage as possible.
By this criteria, the bullets had done their job, Larry had been shot through the heart. The slug, at that close range, had exited through his back, and the core of the original bullet had imbedded itself in the drywall. There was a close-up of that section of the wall, and Hardy was surprised he had missed it completely while he'd been there, but then, he had not by that time been in his most objective state of mind.
The force of the shot had apparently knocked Larry backward onto the end of the bed, where he had rolled off onto the floor. He had come to rest on his right side, his life gone before he had hit the carpet, judging from the fact that there was no smearing of the bloodstains beneath him.
Neither Hardy nor Freeman wanted to view the pictures of Matt, who had been hit in the head. He evidently had been standing by the bathroom door. Last night, the bathroom had seemed antiseptic, but in these pictures the bathroom mirror was a shattered spider web, the walls dotted with red.
Putting the pictures aside, they moved on to the ATM, the discussion Hardy had had with Lightner, his tour of the Witt home, the Crane coincidence and Terrell's view of the Ned Hollis murder. Freeman, pacing the kitchen in his bathrobe, took it all in. He did not seem displeased. When Hardy had finished he acknowledged that he had been busy. "This isn't as bad as it looked yesterday. Of course, it may look worse tomorrow."
"I'm glad you said that last part. You wouldn't want it to look better two days in a row."
Freeman ignored him. "Still, our work is cut out for us. I had Phyllis wire the money over to our account, by the way. The initial retainer. It went through."
"Did you think it wouldn't?"
"Tell you the truth, like many other things about Jennifer, I just wasn't sure."
Hardy decided he wouldn't push it. "I thought I'd go talk to Jennifer again this morning, get some kind of line on Larry's work and her family that they never visited. I also want to find out about the last couple of months. That house showed no sign of anybody living there. I'd like to know if she ever went into the murder room after they cleaned it out."
"None of that's going to be her defense."
Hardy was packing the reports away into his thick briefcase. He was going to do what he was going to do, and didn't want to argue about it. "No, I know. But it might give you something to point at in your histrionic way. Keep the jury juggling the possibilities."
"Of who else might have killed Larry."
Freeman nodded. "Yes, but we don't have to prove, or even show, that somebody else killed Larry. Mr. Powell's got to prove that Jennifer did."
"If she never went into the bedroom to take inventory, it eliminates one of their major contentions."
"Only if we can prove it. We can assert it, but you can't prove a negative, and the assertion gets us nothing."
"It might get us some doubt. You get enough doubts…"
Freeman was wearing his dour face. "Well," he said, "we're a long way from trial. Whatever we find out might be useful at this stage. Certainly this Terrell thing, that was helpful. If Powell falls for it."
Hardy snapped his briefcase shut. "He's already charged the murder. He won't back out now. He's committed."
Freeman wasn't so confident about that. Not yet. "He must have something else. That's what I'd like to find out. He must know he can't win on what he's shown us so far"… He stared for a moment out his kitchen window. "In any event, we'll know soon enough. Meanwhile, I'll take a look at what they've actually given us. And don't misunderstand, your idea isn't bad – I've used it before myself – the old 'soddit' defense."
"Some Other Dude Did It?"
Freeman nodded. "That's the one. Find some other dudes to point at."
Hardy stood up, grateful to be moving again. "You know, it is possible she's telling a lot of the truth."
"Oh, I'm sure she is." Freeman scratched his stubble. "It’s really very difficult not to let at least some truth out even if you're trying to dissemble." Freeman paused, added straight-faced, "I said if…"
"So Larry worked at an abortion clinic. So what?" Glitsky was barely listening, leaning back in the car seat next to Hardy. They were going home. "Hey, guess what?" he said. "It's Friday night. The weeks' over."
But Hardy wasn't letting it go. "So how many deaths and threats do we have so far this year against abortion-clinic workers?"
Glitsky kept his eyes closed. "I don't know. You tell me."
"Okay, I will. I happened to check this afternoon. Four in the city since December."
Glitsky opened his eyes. Homicides were his territory, and this fact surprised him. "Deaths?"
"Deaths and threats, combined."
"How many deaths, Hardy?"
Glitsky grunted, closed his eyes again.
"And Larry Witt would make two."
"It would if he'd been killed by a disgruntled anti-abortion activist instead of his wife."
Hardy kept driving west. The fog had lifted and the wind had stilled and it was a lovely Friday night, a postcard sunset coloring the sky before them. "You don't see it, huh?"
"Not if I'm on a jury. 'Course I'm a cop so I don't think like a juror, but what are you going to point at? You need something besides 'Ladies and Gentlemen, did you know that Dr. Witt performed abortions on Wednesdays and Saturdays?' You know how mad that makes some people? What are they supposed to do with that? You don't have anybody."
"Okay, how about Tom? The brother?"
Hardy had interviewed Tom after he saw Jennifer in the morning. Tom had, obviously, hated Larry. He wasn't particularly fond of Jennifer, either. He had no idea where he'd been the morning of December 28 – he hadn’t been working so he was probably hanging at his apartment. He had never tried to borrow any money from either Jennifer or Larry. "Or Matt either," he'd volunteered with a sneer.
The only information Tom had provided, and Hardy had no immediate use for it, was that his father would hit his mother regularly. Hardy had, of course, already seen Phil slap Tom – finding confirmation that he'd also struck Nancy wasn't exactly a revelation, except that it did verify what Lightner had said about the culture of battery getting passed down from generation to generation.
Hardy was still looking for "other dudes" that Freeman might be able to use, people who had an opportunity, also a motive, to have killed Larry Witt, trying them out on Glitsky, and Tom was next up – after the "hit man" that had killed Simpson Crane in Los Angeles, then the anonymous disgruntled anti-abortion activist.
"So what about Tom?" Hardy was pushing. Even he didn't give Tom more than about two points out of ten.
Glitsky roused himself. "Okay, let me get this out of the way and then we can talk about something else? First," as he ticked his fingers, "he didn't ask Jennifer and Larry for a loan, right? Right. So where's your motive? The guy's got no record and there's no immediate catalyst – everybody agrees these people haven't set eyes on each other in a year or so. You expect me to believe he wakes up one morning and says, 'Hey, I think I'll go kill my brother-in-law.' Second, no prints anywhere – in the house, on the gun. You'll kill your case introducing any of this."
Hardy squinted into the sun. "The problem is, this leaves my client."
Glitsky was matter-of-fact. "Which could, of course, be why she got herself indicted."
The previous Monday Hardy and his brother-in-law Moses had gone salmon fishing off the Marin Coast. They'd caught two each. That night, at Moses' apartment, they'd roasted one for dinner. A second – the sixteen pounder they were going to have that night – they'd put in some of Moses' nearly patented home-made teriyaki sauce to marinate. The other two they filleted, rubbed with rock salt, sugar and cognac, packed with some peppercorns and brown sugar, wrapped in foil and weighted down with bricks in Hardy's refrigerator. The intended to eat gravlax until they didn't want to anymore or died, whichever came first.
Frannie was leaning against the kitchen counter, drinking club soda in a wine glass. Pico Morales, the curator of the Steinhart Aquarium and one of Hardy's long-time friends, stood with his arm around his wife Angela eating hors-d'oeuvres. The as yet unmarried couple, Moses and his girlfriend Susan Weiss, were nuzzling each other by the back doorway.
Hardy came in with Abe and introductions went around. He crossed the room and kissed his wife, who turned her face just far enough away from him to deliver the message.
She was still unhappy.
Hardy knew why, and even, to some extent, understood it. This week had featured himself in an abrupt career-path detour and it would be a while before the kinks got resolved. So he didn't really blame Frannie – on the other hand, he was fairly exhausted himself from last night's lack of sleep, then a full day of Jennifer Witt. And to top it off, they'd planned this party to eat the salmon before they had to freeze it – Pico and Angela, Moses and Susan, Glitsky and his wife, Flo.
So he pretended not to notice Frannie's slight, lifted the foil covering from the glass container on the counter and made a face. "Not salmon again." He sighed. "I guess I'll just have a hot dog."
Hardy loved salmon beyond reason – he took a knife and cut himself a thin slice. "All of you youngsters watching this at home, don't try this yourself." He put the raw slice into his mouth, chewing contentedly. "You know, one of the first labor laws ever enacted prevented employers in Scotland from feeding salmon to their workers seven days a week."
Susan Weiss couldn't believe that. "Is that true? That was a real law?"
"Laws are the man's life," Frannie said.
Perhaps she meant it playfully, and none of the other women seemed to take it wrong, but Glitsky have Hardy a look that was interrupted by the doorbell – it would be Flo.
Hardy went with Abe to answer it.
Moses was regaling everyone – for Susan's benefit – about the time Hardy had saved his life in Vietnam. Embarrassed, Hardy was trying to put a face on it.
"Come on – this guy is shot in the legs and I'm fifteen feet away."
"And things hopping pretty good all around us, am I right?" Moses was exploding mortars and tracer rounds all around him in the air.
"What am I supposed to do, let you lie there? So I pop up, grab him, drag his sorry ass back in the hole. Whole thing took ten seconds."
"He left out getting hit himself."
"Believe me, that wasn't planned. And P.S. – twenty years later, the shoulder's still a pain."
Moses grinned. "My legs, though, are fine."
When the telephone rang, Hardy was going to let the answering machine get it, but he recognized David Freeman's voice and got up, excusing himself.
"Sorry to interrupt your dinner," Freeman began, "but this is not good news."
"There was a woman named Rhea Thompson brought in the same day Jennifer got arrested." Freeman's voice was hoarse, guttural. He cleared his throat. "Her bail was five grand and she made it today and walked out of here with her pimp."
"Okay yourself. Rhea's about five-four, one-twenty-five, blond hair, blue eyes. Sound familiar? The answer's yes."
Hardy waited. "So what happened?"
"So somehow Jennifer's picture got on Rhea's housing card."
The housing, the Field Arrest card, was the bailiff's ID of choice on the seventh floor. You looked at the picture, you eyeballed the person, they either matched or they didn't. Both Rhea and Jennifer had only been two days in jail – they weren't yet known on sight to many of the guards. Especially the swing-shift guards.
"What are you saying, David?"
"I'm saying our client only paid us through Monday because she wasn't planning on sticking around after that. Our little darling has flown the coop."
"Jennifer escaped? From the seventh floor? You've got to be kidding."
Freeman sighed. "Would that I were wrong, my son. Would that I were."
Hardy 04 – 13th Juror, The
Larry granted her forty-five minutes for the run, which was a reasonable length of time. He was a reasonable man, she tried to tell herself. He just didn't want her getting hurt – if she fell while she was running and there wasn't any time limit, she could be lying somewhere, suffering, at the mercy of strangers, and Larry wouldn't know. He'd have no reason to suspect that something could be wrong. This way, if she was late, he'd know – he could be there to help her.
He loved her. Yes, that was the reason for all the limits.
Taking Matt to his private school, Laguna Honda, twelve blocks away, was a half-hour, and that allowed for traffic on some days, though not any talking to the other mothers. That way, and it made sense, she couldn't get into trouble saying too much the way some women did. The Witts were who they were in the community because no one had anything bad on them and Larry wasn't going to let anything threaten that – he was protecting all of them that way. Not just her.
For shopping, just so long as she called him before she left and then again as soon as she got back… before she'd even unpacked the bags… he could be flexible. And she was good at shopping. She could get down to the big Petrini's on Ocean Avenue – they carried everything – and load up a cart and get back home in under an hour.
Sometimes she cheated. But that was because she was, at her very heart, a bad person. A rebellious person. Larry knew she would cheat, and he gave her rules so that she wouldn't have time and would be tempted. But she still got around the rules, even though she knew they were good for her. That was just who she was.
Larry loved her in spite of that, in spite of knowing who she really was. She didn't blame him, really, if once in a while he lashed out at her. If it were her she'd probably have killed someone like herself long ago. Sometimes she wanted to kill herself, but that wouldn't be fair to Matt, or to Larry either.
It was like the time she tried to get away, to take Matt with her. What was that if it wasn't just a cry for help? And Larry heard her – she'd never even told Ken Lightner about that. Who else would have cared enough to follow her all the way to Los Angeles? She didn't blame Larry when he said that if she tried that again he'd kill her. She couldn't leave him. He needed her, he loved her. He didn't mean to that he'd actually kill her. In fact, after they'd come home that time he didn't even hit her for a couple of months. Ned had almost killed her when she'd done the same thing with him. But Larry seemed to happy to have her back.
And he was right about her family, too. They proved on that first visit or two that they didn't like Larry, or her either anymore. They were just jealous. Larry said he felt bad about that but it was one of those things you really couldn't do anything about. You didn't change people, she should know that. And she knew she wasn't going to change her mother and father. And especially not Tom. Nothing was going to change Tom – he was just plain nasty and mean.
Well, there wasn't any reason to put up with that. She and Larry hadn't asked for that, not from any of them. They'd given her family every chance in the world, and they just stayed who they were. They thought Larry hated them and had poisoned her toward them. But that wasn't true. Maybe she'd seen things a little more clearly after Larry had helped her with the connections, helped her hear the between-the-lines insults about her "airs" or their "culture." No, they were, sad to say, just jealous people like they'd always been, and there wasn't any reason to see them and get everyone upset.
The things with the banking and with Ken… Dr. Lightner… she was just scared. She'd always been scared. Life was scary. People changed or the life you were in suddenly went sour and sometimes you couldn't see it coming or do anything about it, but she wanted to understand it a little more so she'd gone – okay, sneaked off – to Ken. And he knew more about her than Larry – knew about Ned, in fact – and he still cared about her. She believed that, that Ken really cared. She wasn't just a patient with him. Of course, now…
Well, she didn't have to think too much about that. That was just another thing.
And the bank. It wasn't that Larry wouldn't give her the money if she'd asked. But it was hard getting surprises for him if she had to tell him what she was spending the money on. Well, at least that was how it had started. The account. It was easy asking the checker at Petrini's to just ring up an extra twenty dollars in cash, then fifty, then two hundred. Shopping was just her job and Larry didn't check the receipts.
She opened accounts as Mrs. Ned Hollis, using her dead husband's social security number and was careful to see that all the taxes were paid. That had been a close one the first year. And then after that she got the post office box and the form got sent there, and it hadn't ever been a problem.
Besides, you never did know. What if Larry somehow lost all his money? Or really got sued for malpractice like he was always talking about? The she could imagine his surprise and happiness when she told him she had all this extra money that had saved them. She'd been doing it to save them all, the family.
She thought about it sometimes, why she'd gone away that time. Besides the call for help, she'd wanted to protect her face and Larry had started to hit her face.
For a while Ken had made her see it differently – she thought that might have been it. For a while he'd had her believing that Larry hadn't been good for her, that she was her own power and all she had to do was, as he put it, assert it, walk away from Larry and take Matt with her. California law, he said, would give her custody.
But Ken didn't know – how could he know? She just felt… worthless without Larry. And the beatings… it wasn't Larry, it was her. Couldn't she bring the beatings on? By behaving badly? Oh, the beatings hurt, but they also were what made her feel she was in control of something. Larry gave her that, didn't he? Well, didn't he?
It was like the time she was planning the party for Matt's fifth birthday. Larry was even letting them have kids come over from Matt's class, which he normally didn't like because – it wasn't their fault but kids just had no respect for property. Larry said the way to avoid things getting ruined was you didn't let kids get the opportunity. If something got ruined because of a kid, it was the parents' fault – you could bet on that. Like supposing you let a bull loose in a china shop – well, who's going to blame the bull? Is it the bull's fault? Of course not, Larry said.
Anyway, back to the party. Telling Ken about it when he asked if she was worried Larry would ruin the party by getting mad when the kids were there. She had said, "Look, this isn't an out-of-control situation, Ken. You're always talking about control. Well, I'm in control here." And she'd been right because she knew that Larry had been getting the really tense way he got before he exploded. So three days before – it was a Wednesday and the party was Saturday – she had dinner late, and Matt wasn't ready for bed when Larry got home so he had to help with that after a long tiring day with patients. And then she'd worn this cheap K-mart robe that she knew he hated. And when he complained she said something back at him, so she'd brought it on and he hit her pretty bad a few times.
But then – the good part – he was all fine for the party, and there wasn't any scene, and she'd controlled… another Ken word… when it would all happen. So to say that as long as she stayed with Larry she didn't have any power – well, Ken just didn't see it, or maybe he just couldn't understand it.
But okay, the hitting was getting worse. More frequent. That was a problem. It wasn't as easy to cover – she'd have the bruises on her face now, instead of just her stomach and her legs like before. Lately, more and more, it had been on the face, and that really did bother her. Her face was who she was.
When she'd been a girl she stared at her face in the mirror for hours, getting the expressions right, the way she looked when she said certain things. Now they were all second nature – the sort of pout and the frown and the quick smile.
So Larry hitting her face – that had to stop. It really had to. Last time it had gotten to that, that was when she'd gone away, run away, if she were being honest, and Larry had come and gotten her. He'd do that again, no doubt about it. He'd even said he'd kill her if she tried.
Like, he said, if she were with another man – same thing, he'd kill her.
Would he really? Maybe he would. He was strong, he did get out of control. An accident could happen. A bad accident. So she had to do something – talk to him, maybe, right afterward. That's when he listened the best. She'd just tell him he had to stop hitting her face.
Ken was right about this one – here she wasn't in control. She even hated Larry now, sometimes. Really hated him and knew it, admitted it to herself. That part was scary.
Or if it ever spilled over onto Matt. If Matt was there while Larry got crazy. She wouldn't let Larry hit Matt, even if he just got in the way, between them or something. If he did that, if that happened…
Whatever happened to her, come right down to it, she deserved it. Why else would it happen? But Matt was different. He didn't bring things on. He was a trusting and honest little boy. She wouldn't ever let Larry hurt him.
Except how could she stop him? That was the question – if it ever started, how could she stop him?
On Saturday, July 10, Hardy was bouncing six-month-old Vincent on his knee, singing to him at near the top of his lungs. He was forty feet above the ground, perched on the three-foot parapet that surrounded the roof of Moses McGuire's apartment house.
Moses was taking it easy lately. When he finally gave up on the idea that Hardy was going to get tired of the law and come back to bartending at the Shamrock he hired a new guy, Alan Blanchard, to take over Hardy's old shifts, and this gave him lots of time to pursue his other interests, which for several months now could be summarized by two words: Susan Weiss.
It was early afternoon, the sun shone in a blue sky, there was a slight warm breeze from the east, and Susan was sitting next to Hardy on the parapet. She was an intense dark-haired cellist with the San Francisco Symphony. She wore her hair pulled back in a ponytail and looked about Frannie's age, although she was eight years older. She wore a tank top, shorts and sandals.
Moses was with his sister at the Weber turning ribs. Hardy passed his boy to Susan, who started cooing into his face. Frannie took it all in. Her glance finally came to rest on Susan. "Don't let her hold too many babies. That's how it starts."
Moses tugged at his bottle of Sam Adams. "How she looks is how it starts," he said, "then the other things happen."
"Well, the other things can produce babies. I have it on good authority."
Uncharacteristically, Moses took a moment to answer. "I tell you, Fran, she makes me think about it."
This didn't make Frannie unhappy – she liked Susan and had to admit she was lovely, although Moses was in his mid-forties. But she had to know. "Are you serious?"
Moses trotted out his usual bartender answer: "No, I'm Alpha Centauri – Sirius is the Dog Star."
Frannie basted his arm with some barbecue sauce, then looked gravely at her big brother. "This isn't an engagement party, is it?"
"It's not even a party." Moses was licking the sauce off. "It's just a lunch."
Hardy and Susan stood. Susan was holding Vincent to her, rocking him as she walked. Frannie heard her humming tonelessly. "I warned you," she said quietly to Moses.
"Of what?" Hardy had his arm around his wife.
"You weren't even supposed to hear that. I wasn't even talking to you."
Hardy kissed her ear. "Well, which was it?"
Moses butted in. "She thinks Susan's going to want a baby of her own just because she's holding one."
Susan nodded. "She may be right." She held Vincent away from her, making a face at him that he rewarded with a beaming grin. "Oh, God, someone like this little guy." She put her shoulder against Moses, leaning into him. "Isn't he cute?"
Baleful, McGuire put his arm around her. He appeared to be studying the baby. He shook his head. "No, he looks like Hardy. Now Rebecca, my niece, she's cute. She resembles my sister, who in turn looks like me."
During this witty exchange, Hardy stood up to take the opportunity to kiss his wife, but Moses stopped him. "Uh, uh. No tongues."
"What do you mean, no tongues? Daddy and Mommy have tongues." It was Rebecca, over to join the party. She looked up at the adults, worried about where their tongues had gone.
"Uncle Moses is being silly," Hardy said. "Bad. Bad. Bad Uncle Moses."
McGuire squatted down. "In most societies, Beck, the uncle is revered above all other relatives. The psychic damage your father is trying to do to you by this display is incalculable should you take any of his nonsense to heart." He smiled sweetly at her, gave her a kiss.
"I still think this guy's cute," Susan said. "Do you mind if I hold him a little longer?"
Frannie gave her brother a knowing look, said it was okay with her, as long as she wanted.
There was a little beeping sound.
"What's that?" Moses asked. "Don't tell me an actual relative of mine has a beeper?"
Hardy already had it out. "Another family secret bites the dust. Besides, stop calling me a relative. Frannie's your relative." He was squinting at the number.
"Just let it go," Frannie said. "Call them Monday. We're having a party."
"This isn't a party," Moses repeated. "It's a lunch."
"Dismas, just let it go…"
"Take me a minute." He was moving to the door on the roof. "I just have to see what it's about."
"Good-bye," Frannie said.
"I'll be right back. Promise."
Hardy got there first, as he had the time before. Unlike the time before though, Freeman was on his way over. It was still light out, hot and now strangely still on the women's side of the jail. Saturday, late afternoon.
He was struggling to hold his temper. They had frisked him at the door. Normally, to get in the jail, he showed his bar card and the guard, whom he'd seen many times, would buzz him in. This afternoon, though, to see Jennifer, he'd gotten patted down and now they were making him wait in the hot and airless room.
Two female guards walked with her this time, and she wore a red, not a yellow jumpsuit. She also had leg chains and handcuffs attached to a metal band around her waist. Her hair had been cut, hacked off unevenly so that an inch or two remained all around.
Her face was blotched, her lips cracked, both eyes with purplish bruises.
Hardy – jeans and a T-shirt – stood up, and she nearly fell against him, reaching up until her hands were stopped by the chains. She was sobbing.
"What the hell…! Hardy began.
One of the guards peeled her off him and got her seated in the chair. "Cut the act, sweetie."
"You get your hands off my client." The guard glared. The second one had her nightstick out. "Both of you can back off. Now!"
These women weren't going to be intimidated by a lawyer in blue jeans. But it also availed them nothing to harass Jennifer in his presence, so – grudgingly – they withdrew.
When the door had closed, Hardy leaned forward. "They didn't do this, did they?"
She shook her head no.
"Down there," she mumbled, her head down. This wasn't the cowed look she'd shown earlier, Hardy thought, but real fear. Something had obviously happened to her.
Glitsky's call had filled him in on some of it – Terrell flying down to Costa Rica and handling the details of her extradition. They were coming in to SFO. Hardy and Freeman might want to be at the jail pretty soon after that.
Slowly she raised her head. Unlike many of the inmates here, her eyes were not empty. They were full of pain. Again, she shook her head from side to side, tears streaming over her cheeks. "Everything," she said. "They did everything."
He got back to their dark house in the Avenues at 11:45 p.m.. He stopped in the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. The tropical fish tank gurgled from his bedroom. He sat at the kitchen table, sipping his beer.
"It was an engagement party." Still dressed in her sundress, hair tousled from sleep, Frannie leaned against the doorpost. "It wasn't just a lunch. Of course, you missed it, so it doesn't matter."
"No, of course not. Don't bother Dismas. His work is more important than any old family stuff."
"I didn't say that. I don't think that."
"Sure you don't."
He drank some more beer. "You want me to sit down and talk about it? Or you just want to bitch at me?"
"I think just bitch at you."
He steadied the beer on the table, looked across at her. Life wasn't as simple as Frannie sometimes wanted to think. She tended to lose sight that there were some things going on in the world beyond tow little kids and Moses' love life. "You're losing perspective," he told her.
"I'm losing perspective. That's good. That's really good."
"Thank you," he said. "But you know, this isn't really a good time for me. I don't feel like getting bitched at. I'm out trying to make a living so you can stay here and have the life of Reilly and I'm sorry as hell that sometimes I've got to do things that aren't on anybody's schedule. Things happen, shit happens, Frannie, and I'm supposed to deal with it."
"Oh, poor thing."
He stared at her. This had just escalated into a stupid fight. Retreat. He picked up his beer, took a slow sip, then stood and walked back down the long hallway to the living room.
She didn't follow him. Fine. He grabbed one of the throw pillows and tucked it under his head on the couch, where he would spend the night.
On July 11, the luckiest day of the year, Hardy woke up in the living room with a sore back. He looked at his watch and saw that it wasn't yet six. The house was quiet, the light subdued.
He opened the front door and picked up the Sunday paper. Then walking in his socks to the kitchen, he took out the cast-iron pan he'd had since college, put it over one of the burners and laid in a pound of bacon.
He moved economically, the kinks in his back easing as he crossed the kitchen, quietly opening cupboards, getting the coffee going, mixing up some waffle batter (the Beck loved waffles). The bacon started sizzling, the smell coming up.
He sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee.
For the last four months, while Jennifer was an escapee, he'd been working out of the office in David Freeman's building and, truth be told, he wasn't having the best time of his life. He'd gotten several hand-off cases from David or his associates. Perhaps half a dozen he'd gone down and pleaded out. The other two – a disputed DUI and a shoplifting were, in the snail's pace way of these things, moving toward a trial sometime during the century.
Worse, though, was the feeling that he was simply spinning his wheels, going through the motions. It was similar to being with the DA's office, where you dealt with petty malfeasances and moved them along through the bureaucracy – except here he was often, from his point of view, on the wrong side.
The other problem, and it loomed large, was that he had gotten himself qualified by the court for the list of approved lawyers available for appointment, and a month ago Leo Chomorro, who had been the presiding judge in his ex-father-in-law Andy Fowler's case, had tabbed Hardy as one of three defense attorneys for a Penal Code Section 187 – murder.
Where things went south was that Hardy studied the file and decided he'd be good and damned if he was going to spend six months trying to convince a jury that Leon Richman had not in fact sat in his Ford Escort with the other two defendants and fired approximately ten shotgun loads each into Damon Lapierre, who just happened to be cohabiting with Leon's ex-girlfriend.
Aside from the fact that Leon had already been convicted of man-slaughter once and been acquitted of murder once, two sawed-offs and one regulation shotgun had been found in the trunk of the Escort. Shell casings were under the seat. Leon had bragged to lots of his friends that they wouldn't be seeing Damon anymore. And four patrons of the Woodshack saw Leon and the other two defendants leave the drinking hole with the less-than-cooperative victim on the night of the murder.
In short, Leon did it, and Hardy wasn't going to help him get off. Period.
This hadn't sat well with Chomorro. Did Hardy want to be on the appointment list or didn't he? If he didn't, why was he wasting everybody's time?
Hardy had almost said that he had no interest in defending guilty people but stopped himself before saying it. Those words would have given him immediate status in the Hall as a legendary horse's ass. Instead he'd mumbled something to Chomorro about a conflict of schedules and the moment had passed. But Hardy knew it would come again, and he knew he'd feel the same way, do the same thing. It wasn't a comforting thing to think.
Rebecca, appearing silently at his elbow, interrupted his thoughts. "Hi, Daddy. Why are you up so early?"
He put his arm around his adopted girl – the natural child of Frannie and her first husband Eddie Cochran. Eddie had been killed on the day Frannie had found out she was carrying Rebecca.
Hardy pulled her closer to him. He couldn't imagine that a blood tie would make any difference. Rebecca was his daughter. He lifted her onto his lap and she snuggled into him for six seconds before she started squirming, which was close to a world's record. "Why are you up so early?", he asked.
This was a serious question, carefully pondered. "Daddy, you know I always get up early."
"And that's why you did today?"
The Beck nodded. "Mommy's still sleeping," she whispered. This, apparently, was confidential information.
"Let's let her, okay. We'll have a little special time, just you and me together. How about some waffles?"
Hardy tugged gently at her hair, kissed the top of her head. "Okay, maple syrup head, maple syrup."
Frannie and Hardy sat on a crumb-strewn blanket in the shade of the overhanging addition to their house that they had built when they'd discovered Vincent was on the way. The lawn was deep and narrow, flanked by four-story apartments, but to the east, over their redwood fence, on this clear day they had a view all the way downtown – the Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, the East Bay hills. It was a fine backyard for the six times a year it was warm enough to use.
Rebecca, preoccupied, was building something in her turtle sandbox. Vincent slept in the porta-crib they had brought down for the occasion.
They had kept from acknowledging the fight all morning, then through the lunch with the kids. Now, in the long slow slide of the warm afternoon, it lay heavily between them. Hardy stared across the distance. Frannie picked at the crumbs.
Finally she reached over and put her hand on his leg. "I just didn't think it was fair to Moses."
Hardy covered his wife's hand, relief flooding through him. "I love you, you know."
"I didn't know about Moses and Susan. As he kept saying, it was just a lunch."
Frannie was silent. Then: "He wanted to surprise us. I think it kind of hurt him."
"I'll call him, tell him it worked. I'm pretty surprised. They're really getting married?"
Frannie nodded. "September."
"And having kids, all that?"
"That's what they said." She moved over against him. "I was just upset."
Hardy let out a long breath. "What do you want me to do in that situation? Of course I care about your family, but sometimes-"
"No, don't start that again, please. That's what you said last night. Every time the job calls, you don't have to drop everything and run."
"I haven't been doing that. At least not for the last four months. Not really since Andy Fowler."
"But now here's another murder trial and it starts again."
Hardy took a beat. He wasn't going to let this escalate again. Fights with Frannie made him physically sick. "Murder trials are serious, Frannie. Murder trials are not like too many other things. This is not just a job. This is, after all, somebody's life, and you get to know them and then they call and need your help, what do you want me to do? What do you think I should do?"
With her free hand Frannie picked at some more crumbs, brushed the blanket. "Do you really think I've got the life of Reilly here, raising the kids, not working?"
"Is that an answer to 'What do you think I should do?'"
She was still looking down, smoothing the blanket. "No. I think that's an entirely different question."
"Okay, I'll do yours first. I'll give you the short answer. The short answer is no."
He felt her shoulders give. "The long answer is we think the kids should have a parent at home as long as we can afford it, and we can, so you're doing it as long as you want to be."
"I do want to be."
He squeezed her hand. "No problem. If you get tired of it, we'll do something different, okay? Maybe I'll stay at home."
Frannie gave him a look.
"Hey, it could happen. The point is, sometimes I've got to do things when I've got to do them, not when it's convenient. Yesterday was one of those times. You think I'd rather go down to jail on a Saturday afternoon than hang out and eat ribs with you and the Mose?"
"Correct, I wouldn't."
"But you're going to stick with this one, aren't you? Jennifer Witt? Even though she ran away, escaped. Even if she did it?"
"She's facing the death penalty, Fran. I don't blame her for running away, although I don't think it was very smart. Juries do make mistakes, if they make one here it's pretty terminal. She might be mixed up – hell, she is mixed up, but she's a real person, not just a case."
"Maybe that's what I'm worried about, Dismas – that she's a real mixed-up person who might have killed two men she's involved with. Plus her baby. Maybe I'm even worried about her finding some reason to kill you."
He put his arm around his wife. "Clients don't kill their lawyers, Fran."
This was not a brilliant riposte. Just a week before, a madman who'd been dissatisfied with his lawyers had walked into the offices of one of the City's big firms in the middle of the afternoon and started blowing people away.
Frannie gave him the eye. "For a minute I thought I heard you say that clients don't kill their lawyers."
"Not often enough to worry about."
In the sandbox, out in the sun, Rebecca had started destroying the castle she'd built, kicking, zooming in like a kamikaze. On of the apartments in the building on the right had opened a window and turned up the stereo – Bonnie Raitt was telling the neighborhood that she'd found love right in the nick of time.
Hardy told Frannie he felt the same way.
"Why would you take a plea now?"
Freeman brought in Hardy with the questioning look. After Jennifer's jailbreak they had both expected the DA to take an even harder line on Jennifer, and now Dean Powell had contacted Freeman and hinted at a willingness to take a plea to Murder One – no death penalty.
Powell spread his arms, expansive and at ease. "Hell, you know, David, we're always ready to talk." He pointed a finger, underscoring the point. "You guys remember that – my door's open."
"My client says she didn't do it." Freeman was flipping through a Sports Illustrated, barely paying attention. Powell's office was the usual fifteen-foot-square cubicle – two metal desks, file cabinets, a window welded shut with a charming view of the new jail going up thirty feet away.
Powell's officemate, Paul Bargen, had stepped out for coffee so there would be privacy, to say nothing of room, for three people. "If she offers to plead guilty to life without, of course I'll have to take it to the boss, but I think it's fair to say we'd take such an offer seriously. I heard," Powell went on, "that your client recovered from her amnesia down there in Costa Rica and now wants to throw herself on the mercy of the court."
"I don't think that's it." Hardy had originally taken the second chair in front of Bargen's desk, but one of the legs was shorter than the others and it listed uncomfortably, so now he was standing. "I just don't think that's it."
Powell shrugged. "I'd ask her again, just to be sure."
Freeman had stopped at an ad for a woman's swimsuit – he lifted the page toward Hardy, spoke to Powell. "I thought you wanted a trial. By the way, I'm voting for you."
Substantiating the rumors, Powell had recently declared his candidacy for State Attorney General, and he now broke out his toothy grin. For a moment Hardy thought he was going to jump up and try to shake both of their hands. "Well, that just delights the hell out of me, David, I can't tell you." He glanced over at Hardy, who kept his arms folded, his face impassive, leaning against one of the filing cabinets.
Freeman flipped another page, seemed to be studying an editorial that had Barry Bonds in the headline. He didn't look up. "And you don't want a capital trial? Seems to me it would be pretty good copy."
"That's always true, David, but frankly I don't think I need it. To be perfectly honest, I'd rather use the time to campaign."
Hardy couldn't help noticing that Powell said "frankly" and "to be perfectly honest" in two consecutive sentences. Powell was lying about something – he obviously didn't think the verdict for Jennifer was all that foreordained.
But Freeman wasn't showing any cards for free. He scratched a stubbly cheek, turned a page of the magazine, sighed. "It's up to my client." Finally, Freeman put down his reading and made eye contact. "What the hell did they do to her, anyway, Dean? She claims she was raped in jail down there."
"I truly hope she wasn't, David, but she shouldn't have broken out of here. That was her choice, her risk…"
"I'd think you might, out of a little human sympathy for what she's been through – maybe, without a plea, at least drop the death penalty."
Powell showed no surprise. Strategically, this wasn't a bad move for Freeman – his client had been abused, perhaps raped. Freeman knew he had seen her, and Jennifer Witt was, at this moment, an object of some pity. But all this got processed in the time it took Powell to blink twice. "I have no sympathy for what she's been through, he said. "She's brought it all on herself."
"She asked for it, huh, getting raped?"
If Powell said anything like that, under any circumstances, he could forget his election chances. "That's not what I said, David, and you know it."
Freeman, of course, did know it. Hardy, not for the first time, was glad he was in the same corner as Freeman. The threat that he might repeat Powell's words in some public forum – that Jennifer had asked for getting raped – might break the deadlock. Hardy half-expected Powell to cave, drop the death penalty request, and offer a plea for Murder One, maybe even with the possibility of parole. If Jennifer took that, there would be no penalty phase and Hardy would be out of a job. He waited.
But Powell didn't get to where he was – the Senior Homicide Assistant District Attorney – by wimping out. He smiled in the face of this veiled threat. "My heart just doesn't go out to multiple murderers, and anything that happened to her outside of this jail, or this country, well" – he spread his hands – "that's completely out of our control."
"I'll be investigating what happened in Costa Rica."
"I would, too. I'd expect you to. Let me know if I can help you. That kind of conduct is unconscionable."
Back to posturing and politics. Hardy picked the Sports Illustrated from Freeman's lap, opened it at random. Whatever else was going to be said here, he didn't need to hear it.
The Yerba Buena Medical Group owned a square block of buildings that housed their professional offices half a mile from San Francisco General Hospital.
Hardy got there a little after eleven. It shocked him – there was actually a free parking lot provided for guests, doctors and patients. Downtown, in North Beach, in Golden Gate Park, throughout San Francisco, lot parking was running four dollars an hour with a two-hour minimum. Street parking could not be found – people had been shot over twelve feet of curb space.
Following the signs through a landscaped maze of shrubbery and vine, Hardy stopped at a redwood kiosk inside of which was a glass-covered granite pedestal, the directory of offices including a you-are-here arrow. More than forty doctors practiced here. Larry Witt's name was gone, probably long gone. It had been over six months since he had been killed – Hardy reflected that the wheels of justice had not yet turned one degree, which was about normal for half a year. And it didn't look like things were going to speed up.
Jennifer's flight hadn't predisposed anyone in the Hall to do her any favors. She was in lockdown, with visiting and phone privileges drastically reduced. She said even her food was worse, if that were possible. It wasn't necessarily on the books, but in practice Freeman and Hardy were finding out that breaking jail constituted a pretty solid waiver of a lot of your rights. Freeman had been told that "due to bureaucratic complexities" over the extradition, Jennifer couldn't even get a preliminary trial-setting date for another week.
The good weather was continuing, and the air conditioning in the business office felt good. Hardy found himself impressed with this whole operation. His vision of the world HMO health care – especially here in the city – was bleak. Anonymous doctors and nurses dispensing care to people they didn't know in perhaps antiseptic but non-personal surroundings.
YBMG's reception office had light green tinted windows all around. The couches were covered with soft cushions and cheerful fabric – swirls of yellows and oranges and reds and blues. A Berber rug – not the ubiquitous yellowing tile Hardy always expected – kept it quiet as Hardy walked to the desk. He had no appointment so he would have to wait, but Mr. Singh would try to be with him shortly.
More Sports Illustrated, the same issue Powell had had in his office. Forget July 11 – today, July 12, was his lucky day. He considered buying himself an extra lottery ticket.
Ali Singh had answered Hardy's first questions competently enough, but had his tiny hands crossed on his empty desk, as though this would prevent him from tapping his fingers or twirling a pencil or otherwise betraying his nerves. Dressed in a white button-down shirt, thin brown tie, new electric sportscoat, he was nodding, acquiescent. "Of course, you see, the police have already been here. They have asked these things."
Hardy leaned forward. "I've reviewed everything they've subpoenaed, Mr. Singh – his office files, the interviews. I was wondering more about the personal things, how he got along with the other doctors, nurses, that kind of thing."
"Well, that is… I don't know. I didn't really know Dr. Witt personally, as you say. You see, we have a lot of doctors here. They don't work together too often. It's not like a Kaiser operation, as you can see."
"So you didn't know him at all?"
"Well, of course, you see, we talked about administrative things, his help and so on. But he had his work. I have my work." Singh raised his eyebrows, unclasped his hands for a split second, put them back together.
"But no problems?"
Singh smiled. "There are at times problems with everyone. Doctors have egos, you know. They want things one way, their way, and I have to try to standardize, so of course sometimes there is conflict. But nothing so serious."
"With Dr. Witt?"
"I liked Dr. Witt. Occasionally we would spar over cost issues, how we did things."
"And how would you do things? How would it affect him more than anyone else?"
"It didn't. That was always my point. But the Group…" He gestured around, taking in the whole complex, "the Group had plans, has plans. You see, we have nice buildings here, pleasant, wouldn't you say?"
"And this is a nice environment?"
"Just so, you see? But this, of course – the landscaping, the furnishings, even the rent here – this takes money from the fund, and-"
"And Dr. Witt thought that that money should go to the doctors?"
Now Singh beamed at Hardy's understanding. "Ah, you do see. Just so, it is just so." Unclasping his hands, Singh finally sat back in his chair. "Dr. Witt liked to feel he had a say in these things, in many matters." He waved a hand. "This is not a criticism, he was not alone in this. He had a need to know, to feel that he was somehow in charge with his business, of where the Group was going."
This certainly comported closely with Jennifer's analysis, with Lightner's opinion, with the FedEx man's report. Larry Witt had been a control freak. "So where was the Group going?"
"Is," Singh amended. "The Group is converting to a for-profit organization. We have not-for-profit long enough. The Board feels to compete in this health market we need to attract capital. To do that we must be… attractive, and sad to say, part of that is the physical setting. You would think the quality of the care is the thing, but that is not business." Singh sighed. "It’s reality, and the members – the doctors – were asked to take a short-term loss, no raises, that kind of thing, you see."
Hardy saw. Times were tight everywhere, but especially in health care and especially in California. The move, on the face of it, made sense in the long term, but he also understood why there might be resistance in the short term – no raises, less money, bite the bullet, wait wait wait. From all he'd heard, waiting and deferring weren't Larry Witt's strong suits.
"Did Dr. Witt fight with anyone about this? Get mad, lose his temper?"
"Dr. Witt? Oh good God, no. He never lost his temper. You can ask anyone here – he was always courteous, always reasonable, even if he wasn't backing down. Nothing here was to get mad about – minor differences among professionals. Dr. Witt had no enemies here. He was liked, looked up to."
"But somebody killed him. Could he have been having an affair with a nurse, with one of the doctor's wives…?"
Singh was shaking his head, an amused look on his face. Thoroughly at ease now, he leaned forward. "It was no one here, believe me, Mr. Hardy. I think it must be his wife, you see?"
"This," Freeman said, "is called a cover-your-ass affidavit. And this", he lifted his other hand, "is a check for two hundred thousand dollars."
Hardy was in his office, feet up on his desk, thinking about where he was going to mount his dart board. He had been here in Freeman's building for nearly five months and during that time, what with feeling he should put in some regular hours and his growing family responsibilities, he realized his dart game had gone to hell.
He had pegged a round of darts into the drywall and Freeman's mouth hung slightly when he saw them there.
"I'll patch the holes and cover it with my board." Then, switching topics, "If I were her, I think I would have spent more in Costa Rica."
Freeman crossed to Hardy's open window, a view of buildings across the way and, four flights down, the after-lunch show on Sutter Street. "I think she was in a hurry when she left," he said.
"That could have been it."
"Also, she told me the bank wouldn't give her more than ten grand. In cash. On no notice. So she took that and ran, figured she'd wire for the rest or something, which was a bad idea."
"That how they found her?" Hardy asked.
Freeman nodded. "Looks like. But the good news is she's with us all the way, no more wait-'til-Monday-and-I'll-decide-then bullshit."
Hardy sat up, feet to the floor, rolled his shoulders. "I don't know. I feel pretty bad for her, David."
Freeman turned from the window and fixed Hardy with a look. He seemed short on sympathy for Jennifer Witt. "Why don't you go interview her again, like I did for two hours this morning?"
Hardy leaned back in his chair, hands crossed behind his head. "Tell me."
"She won't plead. She won't admit her husband was beating her. She won't talk about her escape, who helped her out – maybe get a little slack on that, at least something to deal with. But no, not our girl. She just didn't do it. The end."
Hardy pointed. "So what's the affidavit?"
"This?" Freeman went around to Hardy's couch and sat down. "This is Jennifer's signed statement that I have advised her that her best defense is BWS…"
"Yeah, yeah, battered-woman syndrome, and that she-"
"But you don't believe…"
"Yeah, I do. Now. She's gonna go down for the murders so I'm thinking about how to get into mitigation as early as I can. I tried to drive that home and what do I get?"
Freeman shook his head. He'd never understand lay people. "Exactly. Squat. She didn't do it, she's not pleading." He reached inside his wrinkled jacket and pulled out a cigar, jamming it into his mouth. "I tried to tell her it doesn't matter if she did it. I can get her off on BWS." He shook his head again, stood and walked back to the window.
"Maybe it matters to her?"
"Well, of course." Freeman was patting his pockets, found a pack of matches, stepped back from the window and lit up, putting the cigar into the flare.
"You know," Hardy said, "you ought to wave the cigar gently back and forth an inch above the top of the flame. And don't inhale while you're lighting up."
Freeman glared at him through the thick blue smoke. "But I'll be goddamned if I'm going to let her get an appeal on my misrepresentation. If I know she's been beaten and I don't bring it up, it's reversible and I'm not letting her or anyone else pull that on me. Hence, my son, this affidavit."
"Do you know she'd been abused?"
"Does she admit it? No. But it doesn't matter. It's a defense. It can get her off, damn it. Or at least give her the best chance of getting off."
"It's also admitting she did it."
Mrs. Nancy DiStephano could not see Hardy while she was working but he could meet her afterward if he wanted, if he thought it might help Jennifer.
Since he was passing by with time to kill anyway, Hardy had dropped in at the office of curator Pico Morales in the basement of the Steinhart Aquarium and told him he was getting fat, he ought to get out more, take a walk, exercise. Pico contended he wasn't getting fat – he was actually in good shape except for his hyper-extended stomach. Nevertheless, he got up.
They were strolling along the paths in Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden, across the concert grounds from the aquarium, less than two hundred yards (as the crow flew) from the Little Shamrock. There was serenity here when it wasn't crowded, and it wasn't now. Huge koi swam lazily in the artificial streams, the water trickling and gurgling over moss-covered rocks and small waterfalls. The still-warm sunlight came dappled through the cypresses.
Pico had been listening to Hardy talking about the ATM and didn't think it was very clear. "So Larry Witt was alive at 9:30, right? You know that? What time were the shots?"
"Let's say between 9:35 and 9:40."
"And who told you about this difference between 911 times and the bank times?"
"Nobody. I went down with Abe and-"
"So this DA – what's his name? – you're telling me he doesn't know? What about the cops?" Pico walked on a few steps before he noticed that Hardy had stopped. He turned back to him. "What?"
"I am really stupid."
Pico nodded. "Now we're getting somewhere."
Hardy ran it down out loud to hear how it sounded. "No, listen. You're right, forget 911 time, Jennifer's at the bank at 9:43, right? Larry's definitely alive at 9:30. Take away two or three minutes for Larry to walk back upstairs, call it 9:35 or even later when he gets shot. Jennifer is at the ATM at 9:43, not 9:46 – eight, not eleven minutes later."
Pico was shaking his head. "See? All this worrying about the truth. If the DA doesn't know about the three minutes…"
"I'm not sure the DA even knows about the stop at the ATM."
Pico spread his hands. "Well, there you go. You win."
"No way could she have made it 1.7 miles in a maximum of eight minutes, even if it's all downhill."
"I believe you," Pico said. "Being faster than a speeding bullet myself, I could have done it, but your average bipedal human…"
Nancy DiStephano stood him up.
He was meeting her at five-fifteen outside the real estate office where she worked as a secretary. The office was on Kirkham near 19^th Avenue and it was closed up when Hardy arrived. He double-checked the address, the time, the cross-streets. No Nancy.
After fifteen minutes he called it a day, debated with himself whether he should go by the Shamrock and apologize in person to Moses, decided not, got in his car and headed home.
"I want to meet her."
"You know who. I would just like to meet her." Frannie's red hair hung long and shiny, shimmering in the evening sun. They were walking along Clement Street – Hardy with Vincent on his back in a pack, Rebecca running ahead, stopping at driveways, alleys and corners the way she had been taught. Frannie caught Hardy with a sideways look. "You said she was a person, not a case, remember? It would just make me more comfortable. Rebecca!"
"Out of the street!"
Rebecca had dropped a toe over the curb. She pulled it back, turned around smiling. "Just teasing."
"That is nothing to tease about," Hardy said. "The street is dangerous. We hold hands crossing the street."
Rebecca knew this. She gave her mother a conspiratorial glance and slipped her hand inside Hardy's. "I don't think it's a good idea," he said.
"Mommy and Daddy are talking, honey."
"We can talk about it later, Dismas."
"No, Now's fine. We ought to be able to have a small discussion without being interrupted, don't you think? And I don't think it's a good idea. I don't even know if you'd be allowed to. Or if Jennifer would want to see you."
Hardy let go of the Beck's hand. "You can run ahead now."
"But who's Jennifer? Do I know her?"
"Jennifer's one of Daddy's clients, sweetie."
"Doesn't she like you?"
"She doesn't know me. I want to meet her."
"Hey." Hardy, the referee, making hand signals. "Time out, all right? This is our discussion. Beck, enough, I mean it."
"You don't have to yell at her."
Hardy was trying to keep his voice under control. "I'm not yelling at her. I'm trying to teach her not to interrupt. This is a useful social skill." Vincent, suddenly startled, let out an anguished cry.
"Great," Hardy said. "This is just great."
Rebecca, arms outreached, mouth open, broke down. She clung to Frannie's legs, wailing.
"Here's an idea. Let's give them to Moses and Susan for two weeks." Hardy drank gin about twice a year and figured this was the night for it. Bombay Sapphire on the rocks with two olives.
They had gotten the children down to bed. It was still light outside, not yet eight o'clock, and still warm. They were sitting together on the front steps, waiting for the pizza to arrive, holding hands, the door open behind them so they could hear if anyone called. Or – more likely – cried.
"I don't think two weeks is enough." Frannie was having a glass of white wine. The children's crying jag had lasted nearly an hour. "If they rally want to get the flavor."
"Moses lives close." Hardy was running with it. "We could visit them all the time." He sipped at the cold gin, so smooth it almost wasn't there.
"Speaking of visits…"
Hardy shook his head. Jennifer again. "I don't know, Fran. I don't see what good it would do, what the point of it is."
"It would just set my mind at ease. That's doing some good."
"You don't really think she'd try to get at me, do you? I mean, we went through the same thing with Andy Fowler."
"I knew Andy, Dismas, or at least who he was. A judge, your ex-father-in-law. Plus you got him off. This woman…" she shivered, brought her glass to her lips – "all I know about her is what I've read, which is she's a money-hungry, cold-blooded, drop-dead beautiful-"
"She's not that pretty – she's nowhere near as pretty as you."
Frannie leaned into him, mocking the flattery. "Well, then, she's the most photogenic not pretty woman on earth. But what she isn't, to me, is a real person, somebody I shouldn't be afraid of, worried about."
"What if she won't see you?"
"Then she won't see me."
She was right. If Jennifer wouldn't agree to see Frannie that would be the end of it. The gin that almost wasn't there was telling Hardy's body that oh yes, it was, too – the evening had taken on a soft edge, a benign glow. He told her he'd ask, see what he could do. It was a small enough request. If it made Frannie feel better…
How could it hurt?
When he had tried to contact Nancy DiStephano earlier in the day asking her to call him back for an appointment, Hardy had not known what his schedule would be like sohe had given her his home phone number as well as the one in his office.
She called at a little after nine, her voice a whisper, hoarse, nearly inaudible. "Mr. Hardy?" She told him where she was, would he please come and see her now? There might not be another chance. When he told Frannie he was going, she did not do cartwheels.
Ulloa Street was dark.
Hardy had had his one martini, switched to cranberry juice, and the earlier glow had dissipated with the warmth. The DiStephano's house was in the 4500 block, two blocks from the cold Pacific. He pulled up in front of the number.
She was wrapped in a jacket, wearing jeans but barefoot, sitting in the dim porch light on her stoop. When Hardy got out of his car, she walked unsteadily down the cement walk that bisected the lawn, meeting him halfway. She touched Hardy's sleeve, then immediately pulled her hand away as if it were burned. "He won't hear us here. Not that he would anyway. Thank God he's passed out."
She was shaking. Hardy wondered if she were drunk. "Who's passed out?"
"Phil, of course." She laughed, low, nervously. "Who do you think? Listen, I'm sorry about tonight, our appointment." She wasn't slurring. "I thought we might… but Phil…"
Hardy waved it off. His eyes were adjusting – a sliver of moon gave a little light. There was a lot of Jennifer in her face – haunted but still attractive. It was unnerving.
She stepped in place, foot to foot, seemingly unaware of it. "But I thought it might somehow help my girl."
"It might. I don't know. Are you all right?"
She leaned again in an unnatural way, gripping her side. "Maybe we should sit down?"
Without waiting for him, she went back to the entryway. It wasn't a full porch – more a jutting, covered portico enclosed by a low stucco wall. She leaned up against one of the posts.
She held out her hand for him to be still, breathing her way through whatever pain she was enduring. When she could handle it, she tried to straighten herself and half-turned back to him. Her eyes were wet but seemed way beyond tears.
Summoning something – the effort was palpable – she pulled herself straight, then turned all the way to face him head-on. Raising her head, she inhaled deeply, making her decision, and pulled open the jacket she'd been wrapped in. Under it, she was naked.
Her body – her breasts, her ribs, her stomach – was bruised and welted in half a dozen places. He stood transfixed, two feet away from her, feeling his body begin to pulse in anger. Fist-sized blotches, splashes of broken capillaries, the rake of handprints over torn skin. He stepped toward her, grabbed the sides of the jacket and gently pulled it closed around her. Lightner had been right about Jennifer's abusive father…
She leaned back against the portico's post and let herself slump to the tiles, hugging her arms to herself.
"I told Phil, I told him it was for Jennifer, it might help Jennifer. I wasn't sneaking out. He said how come you didn't try to talk to him."
Hardy held his head in his hands. This was twisted beyond his imagining. "Jennifer suggested I talk to you. If she would have said him, I would have agreed."
"I know that. I told him that, or tried to."
"I didn't mean to put you in this."
She touched his arm again. "No, no, it's not you. This is just what happens."
Hardy raised his eyes. "You should get out of this. You've got to report this."
Nancy DiStephano shook her head. She was still hugging herself, still moving her body to ease the shifting pains. Her look said Hardy didn't know what he was talking about. "Where would I go? What would I do?"
"Go anywhere," he said. "Do anything. But don't live with this."
She kept shaking her head. "But Phil would never let me. Never. He wouldn't even let me see you."
"You could move away."
"I've tried that, but you know, I always come back. It's a tough world out there, Mr. Hardy. Here at least I know somebody cares about me-"
"Someone who cares about you wouldn't do this to you."
"It's not so very often. I understand, he's mostly afraid he'll lose me. I tell him no but he's so jealous… I wouldn't have called you, maybe shouldn't have, but if it could help Jennifer…"
"Did Phil ever do this to her?"
"Jennifer? No. He wouldn't ever lay a hand on her. I think if he did I would have left him and he knew it. He couldn't stand me to leave him. No, all this" – she gestured downward – "this is all between me and him. It has nothing to do with Jennifer."
Hardy stared at the ground, at the sliver of moon – this woman defending the man who had just beaten her. "He's so jealous…"
He tried to clear his head. "So what now, Nancy?"
She shrugged. "I didn't even mean for you to know about this. It's nothing."
"Okay, it's nothing."
"You wanted to talk about Jennifer, if this hadn't happened… I suppose I shouldn't have told Phil and just snuck out to see you. It's really my fault."
The reprise, the repetition, the denial. "It’s really your fault. That's it, huh?" Was it the same for Jennifer?
Nancy nodded, apparently grateful that he seemed to understand. "So we can forget this and just talk about what you wanted before. Can't we just do that?"
Hardy tried. He sucked a lungful of the now-chilled night and tried to organize himself enough to talk to her about Tom. He couldn't.
As he sometimes did, Abe Glitsky arrived unannounced at the front door. When Frannie opened it for him, he stepped back and whistled. "My, my, my." Frannie was wearing a blue skirt and a plain white blouse, low pumps, nylons. She had touched her cheekbones with subtle highlights they scarcely needed. Her eyes were malachite set into the alabaster of her skin. The red hair, softly styled, fell to just below her shoulders. "Whatever it is," he said, "you'll do."
Frannie curtsied, smiling. "You don't think it's too much?"
"You panning for gold? Playing soccer? Mud-wrestling?"
Frannie looked serious. "No, I'm meeting somebody."
"I think for meeting somebody you're on safe ground."
They were walking to the kitchen. It was a smallish railroad-style Victorian house – one long hallway with openings to the living and dining rooms off it to the right, a bathroom to the left. In the back the house opened up into a pod of rooms – airy skylit kitchen, Hardy and Frannie's bedroom with another bath, Rebecca's room (Hardy's old office) off that to one side, Vincent's nursery to the rear.
Hardy was coming out of the bedroom, a mug of steaming coffee in his hand. He was wearing the slacks to one of his better suits, a white shirt, a silk Italian tie.
Glitsky stopped in the kitchen doorway. "I must have the wrong house. Where are the kids?"
"We're taking a day off," Frannie said. "Their grandmother came and got them. I'll be back in a minute. You want some tea?" Frannie disappeared into the back room.
Glitsky was getting the hot water. "Who are you meeting?"
Hardy was still shaken by Nancy DiStephano. He'd told Frannie about it when he'd gotten home, then sat up alone in the living room, not able to sleep for a long time.
And now here was Abe, dropping in, wanting to know who Frannie was meeting. Abe wouldn't approve of Frannie going to get acquainted with Jennifer Witt. If you were smart and in any aspect of law enforcement, you didn't mix your job and your family life. The problem was that Hardy didn't feel like getting into a defense of why he was going along with Frannie's idea when he knew it wasn't a smart one. "I thought I'd drop Frannie off downtown and later we'd go someplace nice for lunch. What brings you around?"
It slid right by – Glitsky wasn't in his investigator mode, when very little got past him. "I've got to go see this couple about a gun they left laying around for their kid to find and play with." He tightened his lips, the scar shone white. He didn't need to say more – Abe was in homicide and homicide meant that somebody wasn't alive anymore. "It's out this way so I thought I'd stop by here and liven up your morning. You back with Jennifer Witt?"
Frannie and the three of them talked for twenty minutes while Glitsky finished his tea, Hardy and Frannie another cup of coffee. Hardy never mentioned the three-minute difference in times between the ATM machine and 911. By this time, he was convinced that it was evidence in a murder investigation, and if he revealed that it could be part of the defense's case Abe the policeman would be bound to report it to the prosecution.
"But who are you?" Jennifer, in her red jumpsuit, looked through the Plexiglas window in the public-visiting area at the women's jail.
Frannie was no longer sure about this. The woman across from her was certainly no threat to anyone at this moment. Nearly anorexic, with bruises on her face, her hair chopped at different lengths, her eyes skittish. Here was a woman, Frannie thought, who doesn't trust a living soul.
"I'm… Frannie, her mouth dry, tried to swallow. "I'm with Mr. Hardy."
"I know. You've already said that. That's why I came out here. But then how come we're not in the visiting room?"
Frannie didn't know – she thought they were in the visitor's room. She didn't know that this long counter with folding chairs, Plexiglas windows, the telephones to talk through, wasn't where Hardy and Jennifer had their interviews. "I'm… I guess it's just I'm not an attorney, so this isn't official or anything." Suddenly she understood why Hardy hadn't come with her to introduce the two of them. What could he have said? "Hi, my wife just wanted to come down and check you out to make herself feel better. She was a little worried you'd get out of jail someday and try to kill me."
She felt like a fool and she felt angry.
Dismas has humored her to teach her a lesson – a cruel one that he might have argued her out of.
But then she realized that she wouldn't have let him do that. She could be as strong and bull-headed as anyone. She had decided she was going to meet with Jennifer and, by God, she wasn't going to back down – that had been her position and now she was stuck with it.
Jennifer waited, her eyes now fixed on Frannie. Pained eyes. Frannie suddenly thought of the son Matt. What if this woman hadn't killed anybody? She had lost her son? And then got raped and beat up in a Costa Rican jail?
"I know this is unusual," she said. "I'm Mr. Hardy's wife. Frannie. He's told me what's happened to you and I just wondered if I could do anything to make things easier?"
The city-run Mission Hills Clinic was about midway between the Hall of Justice and the Yerba Buena Medical Group cluster on Mission Street but not particularly close to any hills.
Hardy stood across the busy thoroughfare and watched for nearly ten minutes. Judging from the signs people carried, there were, he decided, two separate picket lines – one protesting the abortions that took place here, the other comprised of public-health workers who were being laid off due to cutbacks in the City budget. The groups orbited in their own spheres, which warily circled each other, moving from one front door of the building to the next one and then back again. The dance almost appeared choreographed.
In the months Jennifer had been at large, Hardy had remained subliminally aware of the ongoing escalation of the anti-abortion activists. Since he'd had his discussion with Glitsky, a City worker in the Sunset Clinic had died when she'd had the bad fortune to be working after hours. Probably the people who'd left the bomb hadn't intended anyone to be there when it exploded, just trying to make a point, they'd say. The unlucky worker wasn't any less dead for the good intentions.
A doctor and a nurse had had their homes vandalized – windows broken, threats tied to rocks or tagged – graffiti'd – on stucco. There had been at least six reports of muggings of public-health workers after they had finished their shifts, although no one was saying whether these were typical late-night random acts of violence or related to the clinics.
Larry Witt had done volunteer work here, performing – Jennifer guessed – between two and five abortions per week. It was something Jennifer said he believed in – people shouldn't have unwanted babies, the biggest problem the earth faced was overcrowding, a child born to poverty and neglect would most likely stay there.
It was tragic and Hardy believed all of it, but the moral dilemma of when life started and – beyond that – the value of human life itself, wasn't going to go away soon for an Irish ex-Catholic. He strongly believed that people ought to be able to choose, but he also didn't particularly approve of abortion on demand as a form of birth control. At the very least, he thought, people ought to make a decent effort to remember what they forgot last night. But people should also make a decent effort to remember not to shoot each other, and that didn't seem to be happening with any great frequency, either.
He crossed the street, feeling overdressed in his suit. There wasn't another coat and tie on the block. The people in the picket lines – male and female – wore jeans and T-shirts, 49er and Giants jackets, running shoes, boots and Birkenstocks. Timing his approach, he crossed both lines and entered the building without incident.
Inside, the clinic was along the lines of what he'd expected and not seen at YBMG – yellowing tile, glaring fluorescence, that old hospital smell.
In the main office lobby he waited in a line for twenty-five minutes and got sent to talk to the secretary to the clinic administrator. When she returned from her break and discovered that Hardy wanted to talk about abortion records, she told him he could have called and found out hat they released no records whatsoever, and no information on what might be within them. As Hardy surely could understand, these files were completely confidential.
Frustrated, and with another hour until he was supposed to pick up Frannie, he paused outside in the cavernous main lobby, then followed the signs down a long echoing hallway to OB-GYN.
There were eight young women in the room. All seemed to be under twenty-years-old, a couple closer to fifteen. Two sat next to – maybe – their boyfriends, holding hands. One, crying, was flanked by her parents. Five sat alone, empty chairs between them – popping gum, flipping through magazines, listening to Walkman. Bored and unconcerned? Scared and withdrawn? It was hard to tell which.
The receptionist at the window was a cheerful and cooperative young black man with a neatly trimmed beard and Afro. He wore a white smock with a Gay Pride tag that said "Sam." Hardy handed him a card, introducing himself, asking if Sam might direct him to someone who could tell him a little about Dr. Witt.
"You can ask me. I remember him pretty well. Too bad what happened."
Hardy agreed, saying that's what he was trying to get clear on.
"I thought his wife did it."
"That's what they're saying."
"You think she didn't?"
"She says she didn't, so I'm just turning over rocks – maybe find a snake."
"Here? At the clinic?"
"Seems like a lot of angry people out there on the sidewalk."
Sam waved that off. "The pro-lifers? No, forget them. Those people live there on the street."
"People have been killed, Sam, beat up leaving work at these clinics."
Sam kept up a confident smile. "What about grocery checkers or bus drivers? They get beat up too. Welcome to life in the big city."
Hardy tried another tack. "All right, maybe it was personal. Someone on the staff? I don't know. Maybe Dr. Witt had a run-in with somebody?"
"No way, no way. This isn't a social club here. These volunteer docs come in and put in their time and leave. And Witt more than most. Nobody's billing anybody here – no reason to hang out." He gestured at the waiting area behind Hardy, lowering his voice. "This is not fun city west."
Hardy recognized the gospel when he heard it. He pointed at his card lying on the window ledge between them. "If you do think of something personal – anything at all – would you mind giving me a call?"
Hardy watched his wife walk from the back of the restaurant, noticed the heads at the bar turning. One of the problems he had had when he was starting to fall in love with her had been her looks – they were too good. He knew it was easy to get fooled by a pretty face. It had happened to him before.
And even though he had known Frannie since she was a young girl – Moses' kid sister – once he started connecting with her, letting himself really see her, he made himself put on the brakes. Not for too long, but enough to persuade himself that at least most of what he loved about her wasn't on the outside. He had to admit, though, that even after three years, a lot of it still was.
The waiter was there, holding her chair out for her. The little amenities.
"What are you smiling at?"
"I'm shallow. I have no depth. I wonder if our relationship is purely physical."
Frannie daintily popped a bite of calamari into her mouth. They were by the window at Mooses', looking out through the sunshine onto Washington Square. "Well, some of it, anyway."
They hadn't discussed it, but they had both felt they needed to go someplace nice – light, upscale, carefree – to wash away the tastes of their mornings.
She reached across the table and touched a finger to Hardy's cheek, trailing it along his jawline. Picking up her glass, she swirled the Chardonnay, staring into it. "Wine two days in a row. You think Vincent will be all right?" Their son was living on breastmilk and a few squashed bananas.
Hardy told her he didn't think Vincent would notice. It wasn't as if she was out pounding herself into the ground with alcohol.
"I know. Sometimes I just worry." She put the glass down, scratched at the tablecloth. But she wasn't really worried about Vincent – it was something else and Hardy was fairly certain he knew what it was.
She nodded. "You look around here, and you see all these people being so happy, and then back there, in the jail… it kind of makes you wonder what's the real world."
Hardy covered her hand with his own.
"I mean, how isolated are we?" she asked.
The waiter lifted the empty plate from the middle of the table. He removed some non-existent crumbs from the starched linen tablecloth with a small rolling hand-brush. Someone began playing classical music – expertly – at the piano by the bar.
By Friday Hardy felt that he'd covered a lot of territory and uncovered very little. Freeman had been his usual unenthusiastic self about the ATM, although he did admit – grudgingly – that it might be helpful at some point.
Freeman's attitude made Hardy decide that there was a real disadvantage in believing your client was guilty. He was trying to keep his own mind open. He had verified Lightner's opinion – about the battery passing through generations – with several other published and unpublished authorities. Their explanations were all consistent – Jennifer had seen her mother beaten at home. Her mother took it and took it, possibly without complaint to the children. So that behavior became Jennifer's expectation of married life – if it wasn't there, things just wouldn't feel right. Intimacy couldn't begin.
So, Hardy thought, Larry had been beating Jennifer. Without a doubt, so had her first husband Ned. According to Lightner's theory she would have had a difficult time marrying either of them if they hadn't gotten at least a little tough with her during courtship – they wouldn't have felt like husband material.
Whether or not it could be proved in a court of law, Terrell's scenario of Jennifer injecting Ned with atropine was plausible. And – Hardy had to believe – if she killed Ned, it was a possibility that she killed Larry, too.
Next was, if Jennifer did kill both men, at least she had a good reason, though Hardy had a hard time with any kind of premeditated murder.; Jennifer, on her part, still hadn't budged an inch on her denial of abuse, which continued to infuriate David Freeman, signed affidavit or no.
Freeman was afraid he would lose and that the decision would be upheld on appeal. But he was hamstrung – he couldn't bring up BWS at all. If he did he was all but admitting that Jennifer did it and even process of saying why, in spite of all her denials.
Hardy had finally located brother Tom at a construction site near the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. Struck out during the day, Hardy returned to the site after work hours wearing dirty jeans and carrying two six-packs of Mickey's Big Mouth and got him to talk for twenty minutes.
Hardy verified what the mother, Nancy, had said – Jennifer and Larry did not visit the family since a few months after the wedding. Tom had been seventeen at the time. Hardy could see that it had hurt the boy back then, although now the man covered it with bluster.
The last time Tom himself had seen the Witts had been Christmas Eve. No one had mentioned that before and Hardy asked why not.
Tom had shrugged it off. Why would anybody care? He'd gone by his parents' home during the afternoon, had a few beers, and his mother had started moaning about Jennifer and the grandchild she never saw. She'd bought Matt this great present and he wasn't even going to come over to see it.
Tom had gotten pissed off. He drove his motorcycle over to Olympia, intending – he said – to kick a little ass, but by the time he got there, he figured there wouldn't be any point. He wasn't going to change them. He'd dropped off his own Christmas present – a whiffle ball and bat – with his nephew, said Merry Christmas to his sister, told her she really ought to go by their parents so Matt could get his present from his grandmother, then left.
And, he added – no surprise, they didn't come.
But here, Hardy thought, might have been the catalyst Glitsky had been talking about. Out of the blue, Tom might not wake up one morning and say, "I think I'll go kill my brother-in-law," but he sure as hell might do it three days after being snubbed during the holidays, touching off years of resentment.
Walter Terrell sat in with them while they went through the physical evidence, and stood over them in the evidence lockup while Hardy and Freeman checked off the computer list with the items that came out of the bags.
There was Larry's blood-stained shirt. All the other clothes. The stuff that had been in pockets – Larry had a comb, a small Swiss Army knife, keys, some coins including a quarter painted with red nail polish.
"Larry hung out in bars?" This didn't fit Hardy's profile so far.
Terrell shook his head. "No sign of it."
"That's a bar quarter." Freeman and Terrell both looked at him blankly. "For the juke box," he explained. "You paint your quarters red, you feed the box, you don't get charged when they come collect."
Freeman was unimpressed. "So he went out for a drink on Christmas Eve. Maybe. I've had quarters like that turn up in my pocket. Means nothing."
But pickings had been so slim that Hardy wanted to keep grabbing. "Two days before he gets killed, anything he did means something."
Freeman didn't respond. He had already moved the pile of coins to the side, going on to what looked like a bag full of trash. "What's this stuff?" Forensics had picked the room clean and bagged whatever might have interest – in this case the contents of the bedroom waste-basket – used Kleenexes, used Christmas ribbon and wrapping paper, the kind of plastic bag they wrapped shirts in at the dry-cleaners. "This is evidence?"
Terrell pushed another bag toward Freeman, answered wearily. "You know the drill, sir. It's here if you want to use it. It's your decision what's important."
Freeman pulled the bag nearer and slid the gun out onto the table. He picked it up, checked its serial number against the prosecution's proposed exhibit list, smelled the barrel. He checked the fingerprint report and his eyebrows went up. "They didn't find her prints on the gun?"
"The clip." This wasn't any surprise to Terrell. He pulled another bag and pushed it to them. "She wiped the gun."
"Somebody wiped the gun." Freeman gave him the bad eye.
And Terrell shrugged. "If you say so." It was getting late on a Friday afternoon, and the room in the basement of the Hall of Justice didn't have the best ventilation.
Freeman tipped up the bag, expecting the clip to fall out. Instead they were all looking at another gun. "What the hell is this? Where's this on the list?"
Terrell read from the list. "Bag 37, Dumpster contents. Want to see the egg cartons we found with it?"
"Yeah, but what the hell is it?" Freeman repeated. "Why is it here?"
Terrell was holding up his hands. "It was there. Now it's here. How should I know?"
"But it's a gun."
Terrell reached over and picked it up. He put on his official voice. "Sir! Please, calm down."
"I'm calm enough!" Freeman sat back in his chair. "All right, son, I'm calm."
Terrell explained. "It's a toy gun. It's a good toy gun, but it's plastic. See? That's all. As far as I know it's got nothing to do with the evidence in this case."
"Then why is it here?" Hardy could play the straight man if it came to it. The questions were obvious enough.
"It's here because they found it in the same dumpster as the other gun, the murder weapon. I thought at the time it might be worth holding onto."
"The same dumpster?"
Terrell nodded. "They both clunked out onto the street. Guy who found 'em, when he saw the real gun, gave us a call."
"The garbage man?" Hardy asked.
"How does this connect?" Freeman was still sitting back, trying to get a take on it.
"It doesn't, that's what I'm trying to tell you. I just had a theory and thought I'd run with it. You never know."
Hardy knew this was Terrell's MO. "What was your theory?"
"I don't know. The perp comes in with this gun – looks real, doesn't it? – maybe he's doing a burglary, keeps it to threaten people. He gets to the bedroom, sees the real gun, gets surprised by Larry and the boy, panics, boom boom. This was before I fingered Jennifer."
"Did they print that gun, the toy?"
"Sure. Nothing, though. Anyway, I figured they had to be connected, right? But I was wrong. Besides, the guy tells me guns are the number-one toy you find in the garbage sector."
"His words. Parents don't want their kids to grow up violent, so some relative sends them a gun for Christmas or something, they toss it. Second is Barbie dolls. You believe that? Who'd throw away a Barbie doll, brand new?"
"Can we stick to the gun?" Freeman was leaning forward now, interested.
Terrell shrugged. "Hey, you want it, you can have it. Here, check it out."
He handed it to Freeman, who gave it the once over, then passed it to Hardy. "What do you think?"
"It's a toy gun in a dumpster."
Freeman mulled it a few more seconds. "Anything else in this dumpster you bagged that isn't connected to anything, Wally? You want to waste more of our time." Freeman was picking at the bags, lifting them, dropping them. "We got trash, we got toy guns…" He shook his head. "Christ. How 'bout we get to see the clip?"
Afterward, Hardy went up to homicide and finagled Glitsky into a stop at Lou the Greek's. Freeman had gone to wherever it was he went on Friday nights – Jennifer was calendared for Monday morning and Hardy thought he was probably up to some behind-the-scenes shenanigans with somebody.
Now Hardy was trying to convince Abe that Hawaii was where the Glitskys ought to go for vacation, Glitsky saying that Hardy must be out of touch with what policemen made nowadays if he thought Abe, Flo and their three children could spend fourteen days at a Kampgrounds of America site, much less soaking up rays on Maui. He concluded by saying he thought they'd probably go to Santa Cruz for the weekend, maybe the Russian River, spend the rest of the vacation painting the apartment. "If we can afford the paint."
"Things a little tight?"
Glitsky chewed the ice from his tea. "Things were a little tight before my voluntary five percent pay cut."
"You got that?"
"Everybody who makes over fifty grand. And now, after a mere nineteen years on the force, when I have finally graduated to that lofty height, they whack me for getting there."
Abe swirled his glass in its condensation on the table, stared at the window. "Just the other day I was saying to Flo – 'Hey, hon, why don't I volunteer to work two hours free every week next year?' She thought it was a great idea since we don't need any money to live anyway." He drank some tea. "You know what I did? I went in to Frank" – this was Frank Batiste, Glitsky's lieutenant – "and asked him for a $2,001 pay cut, save the city some money."
"And what'd Frank say?"
"He said he wouldn't – it wouldn't look cooperative. I tell him I'm making $52,000 – take away the five percent, I'm down to $49,400. My two grand and a buck idea puts me at $49,999. All things considered, I'd rather have the extra $500."
"I would have done it."
Glitsky shook his head. "No, you wouldn't. You know why? Because the difference is fifty bucks a month, which after taxes is maybe thirty-five – call it two burgers a week. And for that you get a rep for being difficult. After nineteen years! And guess what happens to difficult guys? Here's a hint, eighty-five didn't get to take their voluntary cut – they got pinked."
"Eighty-five?" The number was higher than Hardy would have thought. How could the city lay off cops? This was almost five percent of the force. "Eighty-five?"
"Sure. What do we need cops for?"
"Or health workers." Hardy mentioned the picket lines at the Mission Hills Clinic.
"But guess what? The mayor's still got his driver. You wouldn't want the mayor driving his own car around, would you? What would people say? How would it look?"
Hardy drank some beer. "Well, at least he's got his priorities straight. If it were me, I'd definitely do the same thing – lay off the police and keep my driver."
"I'm going to look into setting up my own security business," Glitsky said. His eye caught something behind Hardy. "And here comes my first recruit."
Terrell slid in beside him, across from Hardy. "First recruit for what?"
"Glitsky Home Security. Armed response in minutes."
Terrell took a pull from one of the bottles of Bud he'd brought over. "We get to shoot people, no Miranda? Catch 'em and put 'em down?"
"Yep. And get paid for it."
Terrell was bobbing his head. "I like it. I'm in." He had another swig, focused on Hardy. "Your partner might be famous, but whew!"
"That's why he's famous – he's that way." He looked at Glitsky. "Freeman."
"What way?" Glitsky asked.
"What way?" Hardy repeated mildly to Terrell. "You can speak freely to Inspector Glitsky."
"I got an idea bagged that might or might not be evidence and the guy goes ballistic on me. I tell him he can use it or not. Hey, I had a theory that might have worked – so? It didn't, big deal."
Lou's was getting crowded, louder. Hardy elbowed his way to the bar and bought another round. When he returned, Terrell was in the middle of something that sounded familiar.
"… the Crane thing was at least worth looking into, but it turned out to be nothing, too."
"What did?" Hardy slid in, passed the round – two more bottles for Terrell, another iced tea for Glitsky.
"I was just telling Glitsky about that other thing, the guy in LA you called from the Witt house."
"Crane. The guy who was murdered."
"Yeah, Crane. Just talking about how theories sometimes pay off, sometimes not."
"Most times not." No argument, just stating a fact, Abe was already chewing the ice in his fresh drink.
It drove Hardy crazy, but he preferred not to change the subject if Terrell had discovered a link with Simpson Crane and was going to talk about it. But he couldn't resist the urge to get in a dig. "Why'd you follow that up? You've already got yourself a suspect."
Terrell didn't take any offense. Instead, he smiled disarmingly. "Hey, I love my work. You called it – it was one of those coincidences. You check it out, what do you lose? You can't tie up a murder too tight, am I right or not?"
On this everyone was in accord. Hardy sipped his beer, taking his time, not wanting to betray any particular interest. "So what'd you find?"
"Pretty much what you told me. No connection to Witt."
"Well, there must have been some – the number was stuck on his desk."
"I mean, sure, yeah, that. But I'm talking the actual hit, they know who did it, or think they do."
"Some local muscle down in LA." Terrell was into his story, a bottle of beer in each hand, from which he drank alternately and steadily. "This guy Crane was the premier union buster of the nineties – cleared like a half a mil a year making sure all the little people kept getting fucked. They try to organize, he gets 'em fired, figures out a way to make it stick. Time to renegotiate, he's got everybody scared they're going to lose their jobs, so they cave. They say the President wanted him for Secretary of Labor but couldn't pay him enough."
"He work for San Francisco?" Glitsky asked, joking. "I think they must be using somebody like him."
Terrell shook his head. "Well, nobody's using him, that's for sure."
"Well, he already killed a couple of unions – meat packers, janitors, like that – small time stuff, and then he thought he'd take on the machinists."
"And somebody important didn't like it."
"That's the theory." Terrell held up his empty beer bottles. "Are these things twelve ounces?" He started to get up. "Anyway, they did it right – hired some pro, no paper trail, no indictment. My round this time."
He was on his way to the bar.
"No more for me," Glitsky called after him. He was still chewing his ice. "You're a sly dog. He's following your leads and doesn't even know it."
Hardy kept a straight face. "You heard him – he loves his work." He brought his beer up. "It is interesting, though, don't you think? Two murders and two hit men?"
Glitsky was shaking his head. "I count three murders and one hit man – Larry Witt, their kid, this guy Crane."
"Actually, you want to get technical, there were four murders – Crane's wife."
This didn't slow Abe down very much. "You have anything connecting any hit man to Larry Witt?"
Glitsky got out of his booth, slapped Hardy lightly on the cheek, told him to have a good weekend.
The Master Calendar for Superior Court was called on Monday mornings at 9:30. It was July 19 and Jennifer's name appeared first on the computer printout tacked up beside the double doors in the hallway outside Department 22.
Since her extradition from Costa Rica and subsequent return to San Francisco had been reported in the Chronicle and on television, the media was on hand when Freeman and Hardy entered the courtroom a little after nine.
Hardy knew that David Freeman had no love for most reporters but was careful not to let them see it – they could be helpful in a trial with political overtones. Candidate Dean Powell wasn't going to let a photo opportunity pass without getting whatever possible mileage out of it, so the two attorneys – one on either side of the courtroom – were now chatting amiably with reporters.
Powell was coming across as considerably more sincere than he had four months ago – perhaps he'd gotten some coaching. The hand gestures didn't seem as rehearsed. He moved a step closer to his own personal knot of reporters. "Look," he lowered his voice, speaking from the heart, "I'm in favor of the death penalty. And we've got special circumstances here that, if proven, warrant the death penalty – hell, that cry out for it. Show me a little remorse, an admission of guilt, even a cry for mercy, the District Attorney can be responsive to that. Defendants aren't numbers to me – they're people, living and breathing human beings. This trial isn't part of my campaign to Get Tough, California." He leaned a leg casually over the corner of the table on the prosecution side of the courtroom. "This is a gamble by the defendant – she thought she could commit murder for money and get away with it. She was wrong. Terribly wrong. I am not bloodthirsty, but if she is found guilty, we're going to ask for the extreme penalty. That's justice, and she'll have brought it on herself."
Freeman had his own group. "This is, unfortunately, all too typical of the ways things get done. The very fact that all you folks are here shows how out of line it is already. Nobody's talking about the weight of evidence, which is light – fatally light. It never would have gotten this far except it's likely to keep some names in the newspaper more than they would be otherwise. I doubt it will even get to trial after I file my motion to dismiss."
"You don't think it'll get to trial?" This was from a woman with a microphone.
Freeman shook his head. "I doubt it."
Another hand, another microphone. "But the grand jury indicted her."
Freeman smiled. "The grand jury tends to indict whomever the District Attorney asks it to."
"But she escaped from jail, didn't she? She ran away?"
"She's resourceful and she's innocent, and she doesn't trust a system that's already gotten it this wrong. I think in her place I would've broken out, too, if I could have figured out how to do it."
Powell was standing now, a hand in a pocket, smiling his smile. Freeman, serious and indignant at the system's injustice, was warming up for when the judge came in. Everybody had an agenda.
Hardy walked back up the middle aisle and out into the hallway. They still had twenty minutes.
Looking through some papers, his briefcase beside him, Ken Lightner was sitting on the wooden bench in the hall across from Department 22. Hardy sat next to him. "I want to apologize to you. It seems you were right."
Lightner put the papers down. "About what? Not that I wouldn't take just about anything right now."
"About Jennifer's mother, her father beating her."
The psychiatrist nodded, shuffling his papers. This, obviously, was old news to him.
"I thought you might have found something a little closer to home, something with Jennifer herself."
Hardy shook his head. "Jennifer isn't giving anything away. Especially after this escape fiasco. Freeman's pulling out his hair, what he's got left."
"I'm pulling out mine, too. She's made me stop talking about it, which given where she is tends to limit our conversations. How are we not supposed to talk about it?"
"The truth. Larry beating her. Abusing her. Her defense. What she's going through. To say nothing of all this madness over the last months. How is she supposed to deal with all that?" Lightner pushed his hair back with his fingers.
"You've seen her, then?"
"I've seen her. I try to visit her almost every day."
"That must cut some hell into your practice."
Hardy hadn't meant to be accusatory, but Lightner's back went right up. "I take care of my patients, Mr. Hardy. I care about them. I try to be there for them when they need me. As I assume you do with your clients."
Hardy took the rebuke. Lightner had a point. Sometimes you didn't punch the clock. "You want to accept a second apology in five mintes? That didn't come out the way it was supposed to."
Lightner shrugged it off. "It's all right. I'm under a good deal of stress myself. I don't mean to snap back at everybody but I don't know what to do about this, about Jennifer. Her irrational guilts, her self-destructiveness… it's making me question my own judgment, whether I can do her any good."
"What do you think would help her?"
"I don't know right now. I don't know. The problem is I can't get her to talk about, even acknowledge, her real problem."
"So what have you been talking about every day?"
Lightner's expression said he knew how it must sound under the circumstances. "We talk about her self-esteem, Mr. Hardy. How she's finally growing up, taking responsibility for herself. About her future."
"I know, I know, we don't have to go into it." Lightner had put his papers down, was rubbing his hands together. He raised his eyes to Hardy. "But that's what she wants to talk about. How she's finally getting things straight. She says she knows she can probably get out of this altogether by blaming Larry but she's just not going to do it. It wasn't his fault."
"Beating on her wasn't his fault? What about her saying she didn't do it, and a defense of battered woman syndrome would be an admission?"
Lightner nodded. "Yes, I'm afraid so. Things like that are deeply ingrained." He stood up, taking his briefcase, asking where the men's room was, if he had time before Calendar came on.
He had disappeared around the corner before Hardy realized that he had left a couple of his papers on the bench. Glancing down at Jennifer Witt's name, highlighted in yellow, Hardy picked them up.
This first page was an initial patient's sign-in form from Lightner's practice, filled in four years before, giving an overview of medical history, previous physicians, allergies, surgical background and so on. Hardy thought a minute, folded the paper, and put it in his inside coat pocket.
Jennifer in her red jumpsuit, handcuffs and leg irons, was the first computer number, or "line," called.
Something was up. Judge Oscar Thomasino wasn't interested in the computer printout on his desk before him – his eyes followed Jennifer as she limped from the bailiff's entrance on the judge's left until she got to the podium in the center of the courtroom where she stood flanked by her two personal bailiffs.
Freeman was waiting for her, though there was a near-tangible air of friction between them. Jennifer glanced behind Freeman's back to where Hardy sat at the defense table. She nodded to him, her eyes grateful, or at least welcoming, though he couldn't say why that should be so – he hadn't seen her in a week.
He also wasn't exactly sure why he'd come today – this was the second arraignment for Jennifer and she certainly wasn't going to change her plea. Maybe, he told Frannie lightly, he missed being in a courtroom. Now he wondered if there hadn't been a germ of truth there.
This was supposed to be a more or less pro forma administrative procedure that would determine the date that Jennifer's trial would start or, more precisely, when it would relocate to its eventual Department. Once the presiding trial judge and the courtroom were assigned, which would be at another calendaring Monday like this one, the trial itself might not start for another six months to a year.
But Thomasino started things off with a curve ball from the bench. Judges had different techniques to combat the routine. Hardy was beginning to understand that Thomasino like to start the day with a little drama before wading into the sea of paperwork. "Mr. Freeman, is your client all right?" He was taking her in – pale, thin, hair hacked off unevenly.
Dean Powell, who had hardly been paying attention, stood up. "Your Honor, we will stipulate that Mrs. Witt may have been badly treated during her incarceration in Costa Rica, she-"
Thomasino used his gavel. Everyone in the courtroom jumped. "The court addressed its remarks to Mr. Freeman," he said mildly. "If I remember, he could speak for himself last time we did this." His face was stern, but there was something near-playful behind it. "Mr. Freeman?"
With the door open it was Freeman's nature to stick his foot in. "Your Honor, my client has been badly beaten. She needs medical attention. She is so intimidated by what she's gone through that she's afraid to say anything. Certainly her civil rights have been violated. The People have given up this case by their handling of the entire extradition process."
"Didn't this alleged beating take place in Costa Rica?"
"They were our proceedings. It would not have happened if we hadn't-"
Thomasino's spark of humor vanished. "It wouldn't have happened if your client had not broken out of our jail here and fled the country."
"Nevertheless, Your Honor-"
"Nevertheless, Mr. Freeman, I've got a full docket and I think the air conditioner's starting to act up. You mind if we get on with it?" Evidently Freeman did mind – his retort was on the way when Thomasino leaned out of his chair. "Give it a rest, David." Freeman, confidently, patted Jennifer's arm. She had no reaction.
Thomasino was back at his printout writing himself a note. "I assume, given the… interruptions to this point, that everybody's ready to proceed. Is that the case, Mr. Powell?"
"It is, Your Honor."
Freeman had another problem here. Normally in a potential death-penalty case the defense would delay and delay and then try to delay some more. But he had discussed this with Jennifer and, as usual, she hadn't agreed with his decision or strategy.
Powell wanted the trial to begin quickly, and to conclude before the election in November. As a matter of principle, Freeman hated to agree to anything the prosecution wanted, but Jennifer had tied his hands. She was in jail and she wasn't getting out until she was found not guilty. Not unreasonably from her viewpoint, she wanted the trial to begin as soon as possible.
Freeman had told her it wasn't at all certain that she would be cleared. She was up for three counts of capital murder, and he knew that the DA would not frivolously charge anything that serious. He also knew that her case, as presented by the prosecution, would feature the kind of motive and presumed callousness that persuaded juries to convict – murder for insurance money.
He wanted Hardy to have time to find "some other dudes." He wanted time to think, to plot, to devise. He wanted time for something else to happen, for Powell to be elected and a new prosecutor, without Powell's agenda, to be appointed.
"Mr. Freeman?" Thomasino reported. "Are you ready to proceed?"
Freeman had no choice. "We are, Your Honor."
Thomasino looked surprised and he was. He had never seen a capital case actually ready to be set for trial at the first setting date. "All right then." And the trial was calendared for Monday, August 13, in Department 25.
"It's you I'm trusting on this, you know, not him."
Before leaving the building after the hearing, Hardy had decided to go on up and share a few impressions with Jennifer. He also had a list of questions written on a legal pad in his briefcase. Now they sat, knee to knee, in the tiny interview room by the guard's station. Jennifer was expressing her displeasure with David Freeman.
"He's a slob and he doesn't believe anything about me – not even that they raped me down there."
Hardy pulled his chair back. He wasn't sure how their knees had gotten so close and he didn't want to be misinterpreted. "That's the thing about the pros in this law business, Jennifer, and it's why David's so good. It's not personal. If you getting raped would help your case in any way, he'd jump on it with both feet. But, unfortunately, it doesn't. I mean, it happened because you escaped."
"If I can get off I'm going to go back down there, find that guard and kill him. I swear to God."
Instinctively, Hardy looked up at the bare yellow walls, fairly secure in the knowledge that this room wasn't tapped. He hoped. Leaning forward, he unconsciously lowered his voice. "It would be a good idea to keep the death threats to a minimum for the next few months, okay?"
She smiled. "It's what you call a figure of speech."
"I know. But sometimes the sense of humor thing around here gets a little fuzzy."
"I'll watch it." Jennifer stared a minute through the glass to the empty guard station. "I like your wife."
Hardy nodded, somehow wishing this hadn't come up, knowing that it had to. Maybe, in fact, it was another reason why he'd felt the needed another visit, to reassure himself that the connection between Jennifer and Frannie was unimportant. "She said you had a nice talk."
Jennifer shrugged. "We did. It was. Just mostly girl stuff but I haven't talked to anybody like I was a normal person in so long…"
"I thought Dr. Lightner talked to you every day here."
He saw her processing his knowledge of that information. It wasn't clear what she made of it. "Well, sure… Ken."
"I mean, doesn't he talk to you like a normal person?"
Out of any context, she smiled. Hardy thought he'd like to videotape an interview with her and analyze when these random smiles appeared, but he was almost afraid of what he'd find. "Ken doesn't count," she said. "Besides, I don't think anybody's normal for him. Normal doesn't have any meaning. It's one of those psychological buzzwords."
Hardy had already heard enough jargon to know what she was saying, but she had left open an avenue for questions. "What about down in Costa Rica? Didn't you meet anybody down there?"
Her eyes shifted to him, then away. "No. I didn't think it would be a good idea."
"So what did you do?"
Again the empty guard station seemed to grab her attention. She spoke into the window. "The first few days I just stayed in the hotel. Then I went to the beach, I read a few books."
Hardy could probe this by asking her which ones but it wasn't his intention to interrogate her. Like her rape, anything that had happened to her in Costa Rica wasn't going to have much effect on what she'd done or didn't do last December.
"Did I tell you I'd seen your mother?" he said.
"You'd said you were going to. How was she?"
"She wasn't good, Jennifer. Your father had beat her up." He didn't think she needed to hear any details. The vision of her mother's battered body was still coming back to him.
Jennifer looked down at the table, a thumbnail to her mouth.
"I understand this thing – this beating – it passes down through generations in families," he said.
Her eyes came up, pained. "We've been through all this." And, she was saying, we're not going into it again. She became brisk, business-like, and bizarrely, almost cheerful. "Anything else? You said you had some questions."
Hardy took his pad from his briefcase. Last night he had reviewed the notes from his visit to Jennifer's house, his questions.
Yes, she had stayed in the house in the months between the murders and her arrest, except she hadn't been able to make herself go upstairs. She had gone into their bedroom once to get her clothes and some personal items, and the experience had been so upsetting she hadn't been able to make herself go back in.
"So how did you do the inventory for Terrell?"
"Well, that's why I messed it up," she said. "Nothing was gone from downstairs, they hadn't taken my jewelry. I didn't even think about the gun." She held up a hand. "I know. A big mistake."
"She might at other times not be telling the truth, Hardy thought, but this, he decided, wasn't one of them.
"Might there have been another gun?" Hardy asked.
"What other gun? Where?"
"I don't know. Anywhere. Maybe Matt had a gun? A toy?"
She shook her head. "No. We wouldn't let him own one. It was something Larry and I agreed on. When he was an intern he said he saw too many accidents."
"So no gun?"
"No gun. Why do you ask that?"
"Trick question. The dog that barked in the nighttime."
This time she sighed. "This can make a girl tired, Mr. Hardy."
"Just one more, a straight one. Okay?"
"Crane amp; Crane?"
Her face skewed up. "I don't know. Chess and checkers? Is this a quiz or something?"
"It's a law firm. Have you ever heard of it?"
"You tell me first."
She shook her head again. "It's not familiar, no. Now why?"
Hardy was putting his notes away. "Larry might have called them about something."
Jennifer gave it another minute. The female guards came back to their station. They passed a bag of Fritos back and forth.
"I don't know what it could be," Jennifer said. "Just some more nothing."
Hardy was feeling better about his office – the dart board was in place, moved in and nailed up over the weekend. It was early afternoon and he was getting back into the groove, throwing some "20 Down," trying to hit all the numbers on the board in descending order, ending with a bull's-eye. In his glory days Hardy had often done it in under ten rounds – thirty darts – and his all-time record was twenty-four. Now he'd already thrown eight rounds and was hung up on "11," which was normally his easiest shot, his "in and out" number in a wide range of money games.
Freeman entered without knocking. Hardy missed again.
"This is not billable," Freeman said.
"I'm thinking," Hardy replied. "Thinking counts."
The older man closed the door, then walked over and sat on a corner of Hardy's desk. "I'm thinking, too. I'm thinking that we get a trial in two months so Dean Powell can get free ink in time to get elected, and I can't object because my client wont' let me."
Hardy pegged another dart, finally hitting the "11." He held a last dart and threw it randomly – or thought it was random until it smacked into the middle of the "10." He was getting it back.
"And then," Freeman was continuing, "I come in to check on the progress made by my hand-chosen ace investigator and he is throwing darts. Am I the only one that feels some pressure here? I think that's a fair question. Two months for a capital case. It's unheard of."
It's been five months since the original arraignment."
"So what? Who knew she was going to get found in Costa Rica? Does Thomasino think we were preparing for trial all that time? Whose side are you on, anyway?"
"As always, I'm on the side of justice and truth, but it's not going to trial in two months. It's just beginning jury selection."
Freeman, of course, knew this, but Jennifer's trial was going to begin more quickly than he wanted it to and there wasn't anything he could do about it. Hands jammed into his pockets, he stood near the window and studied buildings across the street. "I need a lever. Christ, Diz, I need something."
"Just this morning didn't I hear you tell some reporters that this thing was such a turkey it wouldn't even make it to trial?"
"You could write a book on what I've told reporters. You'd be surprised."
"I doubt it."
"I've had it work. Some rookie Assistant DA reads in the papers that I've got this blockbuster secret evidence that'll blow the trial wide open and next day I'm down at the Hall pleading a manslaughter on what should have been a righteous Murder Two. But in this case…" He trailed off, shaking his head. "In this case, we've got Jennifer and Jennifer's weapon and Jennifer's presumed motives. We're very much going to need somebody else to point at."
"The famous other dude." Hardy came around his desk and flipped through some pages of his yellow pad. "That's all I've been doing, David. The problem is, there hasn't been what you'd call a run on them. In the meantime, maybe it'll ease your mind to know I'm not just shooting darts to pass the time. I have an appointment on another matter. Actually the appointment was for about fifteen minutes ago, but Mr. Frankl is late."
At the window, Freeman half-turned. "Who's Frankl?"
"My DUI. Wants to go to trial."
"The guy with the 1.6?" In California, a blood alcohol level of. 08 got you convicted for drunk driving. If that fact was undisputed you were guilty.
Hardy nodded. "He says he's thought up a defense."
"To a DUI? I'd like to hear it. It could make us rich."
The telephone buzzed on Hardy's desk. "That's him now. I'll keep you informed."
Freeman was at the door, going out, when Hardy picked it up. But it wasn't Mr. Frankl. It was Sam Bronkman from the Mission Hills Clinic and he had just remembered something personal regarding Larry Witt that Hardy might be interested in.
Late in the day Hardy parked in the long shadow of the Mission Hills Clinic. The evening breeze whipped at his jacket as he got out of his car and prepared to cross the picket lines again. Same people, same building, same wind.
There was no one in the darkened waiting room at OB-GYN, and the blinds behind the window at the reception area had been pulled. Hardy felt all his muscles go tight, almost turned to walk out, then made himself knock on the glass. He was here. Might as well make sure.
There was a slit in the blinds and they blinked open. Sam smiled, waved, pointed at the door to the inner offices and closed the blinds down again. Hardy crossed the room.
The door cracked and Sam's head appeared, a turtle poking out of its shell. Grabbing Hardy's arm, he pulled him through. "All clear," he said. "You wouldn't believe. We close at four-thirty. People come here at five, expect to waltz right in. Keep the desk open and you're here all night."
Sam, chattering, led the way to an employee's lounge – plastic yellow chairs, white metal tables, vending machines, a microwave. It was an inside room with no windows, and it was empty. They sat at one of the tables.
"I should have remembered when you were here last time, especially when you mentioned the personal stuff, but" – Sam snapped his fingers in the air – "the brain, sometimes it goes on hold. One minute you're there, the next" – the hands described a mushroom cloud – "woosh, nobody home."
"That's all right, Sam. I really appreciate you calling, whenever you remembered, and you did remember something?"
Sam nodded elaborately. "Over the weekend. Did you read that article about that senator who wouldn't let his daughter have the abortion? Well, anyway… I was at Jason's – he's my friend, Jason – and I was reading it and suddenly, it was like, I don't know, a vision or something, just" – again the hands fluttered – "whammo, there it was."
Hardy smiled. "There what was, Sam?"
"Dr. Witt. The same thing."
"Dr. Witt had a daughter?"
"No. No way." Sam reached over and slapped Hardy's arm. "No, listen, the personal thing, the connection, is this – there was this girl, Melissa Roman, whose parents told her she couldn't have an abortion, forbade it, you know." He rolled his eyes. "Smart, right? These people, I'll never understand…" A deep sigh. "Anyway, she tried one on herself – an abortion – and it didn't turn out so good."
"What else?" The hands again, including the universe. "She winds up here. Dr. Witt's the pro with female plumbing and he's a volunteer. He calls for an ambulance right away. But before it even gets here she's dead."
"The parents blamed Witt?"
Sam nodded. "You got to. They're not going to blame themselves, right? So they need somebody and Melissa's already dead – kind of unfair to take it out on her, wouldn't you say? – so they pick Witt. They decide he's somehow responsible for the abortion that killed their daughter."
The logic of that couldn't stand much scrutiny, but Hardy supposed it rang true for the bereaved Romans. Hardy was leaning forward now. "How'd they pick on him? When did all this happen?"
Sam nodded, pleased with himself. "I looked that up today. It was right before Thanksgiving of last year."
"Which was a month before Witt was killed."
"What did they do? Threaten to sue him? What?"
Sam's palms were up again, laying out the whole truth. "I don't know everything. I know Roman came down twice – we had to get security on the scene the second time. Then, right after that, Dr. Witt said he might just quit volunteering, it was too much. Somebody broke his car windows and he was sure it was Roman."
"Did he report that?"
"I don't know."
This was something Hardy could legitimately bring up to Terrell, or even Glitsky. Here was a crime that happened to a murder victim within a month of his death.
If Larry had reported it.
"The other stuff," Sam was saying, "if Roman was suing him or the clinic, I don't know. I haven't heard about that, but I'll tell you something…"
"How about this? If you're planning to kill somebody, you don't also sue him, do you? Maybe that's why I never heard of anything. Otherwise, why wouldn't he just sue the clinic?"
His house was empty when he got home and he felt the emptiness trying to settle on him, heavy and cold as the city's familiar fog.
He had lived the better part of ten years alone in this house before he had gotten together with Frannie, and the associations weren't all good – he missed almost nothing from that lost decade. The house, back then, had been smaller (without the nursery), darker (without the skylights), colder. Just plain colder somehow.
He would get hoem from bartending or a ball game and go to his office in the back, which was now Rebecca's pastel bedroom. He'd take a bottled Guinness from the refrigerator and sit at his desk in the light from his green banker's lamp and read, or shoot darts, or clean his (now unused) pipes, or whittle something. He'd light a coal fire in the grate.
Everything he did he had done all by himself, even when he was with other people. He hadn't thought he was lonely. He wasn't lonely, he was just alone. And, he now knew, there was a difference.
Frannie hadn't mentioned going out and he'd talked to her after he'd seen Jennifer in the morning. It was possible she'd gone to the market, although they'd just spent a domestic weekend, including a trip to the grocery store on Saturday.
He didn't know where they were and, against any kind of sense, it worried him. On the drive home he'd been thinking about Jennifer and Larry and the Romans and the medical background sheet Lightner had – intentionally? – left for him to pick up.
All those thoughts were now gone. He looked down and out the window in Vincent's room, wondering if, even with the July evening chill, they might be in the backyard. They weren't. He fed the tropical fish in his bedroom, looked at his watch, started to call the Shamrock and decided not, checked the time again. He didn't know. There was no note.
He wasn't going to sit around waiting, letting the old emptiness fill him up. It was something he'd put behind him, and its sudden reappearance spooked him. Were the kids all right? Had Frannie run out quickly to the emergency room, not even having time to jot something on a pad? He walked from the kitchen to the front door down the hallway and back through the inside rooms, telling himself he wasn't looking for drops of blood on the floor.
In his bedroom he shucked his suit and put on shorts, a sweatshirt, tennis shoes. He had a four-mile circle he ran from his house, out to the beach, across Golden Gate Park, along Lincoln back to the Shamrock at 9^th Avenue, then home. It took him about forty-five minutes.
He looked at his watch. He'd be home by seven. He wrote a note and left it on the kitchen table under a salt shaker. At least Frannie would know where he'd gone.
In the kitchen, Frannie greeted him with a kiss. She was stirring her white clam spaghetti sauce and humming. Rebecca was pouring water from a watering can, getting almost half of it into the different-sized pans she'd arranged on the floor. Vincent was in his baby seat next to her. The windows were steamed with the boiling water. The sun was still up. In his house there was nothing empty or spooky or sinister.
Hardy went in to shower, berating himself for his paranoia, wondering how he got to be so old.
On Wednesday at a little after noon there was the sound of something being thrown, clattering against bars onto the floor in the jail behind where Jennifer sat on the bench in the visitor's area. Startled, Frannie nearly left her chair. Sitting back down, she forced a smile. "I hate that kind of noise. I always jump a mile."
"It doesn't really bother me anymore. I guess I'm used to it." Jennifer looked down at her hands. "Larry used to throw things sometimes, so by the time I heard the noise it meant most of it was over."
"What do you mean?"
"You know, the tension, waiting for him to blow up. It was almost a relief when it came."
Frannie put her hand on the Plexiglas. Jennifer put hers up against it. It had developed between them, some kind of signal, a touch by proxy. This was their third meeting. The hands remained in place. Frannie stared at the hands, at her wedding ring. Her face paled.
"Are you all right?" Jennifer asked.
"I'm fine. Sometimes just…"
"I'm sorry. Moment of weakness. It's nothing." Then smiled again, weakly. "I don't know what it is."
"You look sad."
Frannie nodded. "That's what it feels like. Like all at once things have sort of stopped" – she searched for the right word – "resonating, I'd say."
"Maybe it's just the postpartums. They can go on six months, you know, sometimes longer. After Matt," she paused, surprised by the name, from out of nowhere. A deep breath, pushing on, " after Matt, first there was euphoria, then this black hole that didn't want to go away."
Frannie shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know. I don't feel like it's that." She brought her hand back down to her lap. "I wanted to tell you – you know, my first husband was killed too?"
Frannie then told Jennifer about it, about twenty-five-year-old Eddie Cochran – Frannie's husband and Hardy's friend. Hardy had helped expose the murderer, and five months later they – Hardy and Frannie – had gotten involved, married.
Frannie told her about some bad moments since they'd gotten together. Guilt perhaps. Timing questions. But this, Frannie's sadness, seemed to strike a deeper chord somehow.
"Everything's been so kind of rushed, you know?"
Jennifer listened, rapt, her eyes glistening. Another woman had problems, had sadnesses. It was some comfort to know she wasn't so alone.
"It's just first there was Eddie, then Dismas and me. Then all of a sudden I'm married again and Rebecca is being born. Next, before I've really given any thought to those changes, I'm pregnant again and having Vincent. And now… now I've stopped for a minute and I look back and it's like I've been running like a crazy person, as though I'm maybe running from something. Does this make any sense?"
Jennifer nodded. "Yes. Sometimes I think the trick is to just keep running so you don't have to stop and think about it. Once you stop, then…"
Taking a long moment, Frannie leaned forward, her elbows on the table. "Today I was sitting rocking, feeding Vincent, and all at once I'm crying. Really sobbing. Now why would that come over me when I look at my life and I'm fine? I'm happy day to day, Dismas and I are good. I love the kids. I don't get it."
"You miss your first husband, Eddie?"
"A little. But I'm used to him being gone. I know he's not coming back. It's not that. It's more that I haven't sorted things. Haven't even thought about it, and here I am in a marriage with two kids and this is my life and sometimes I don't even know how I got here."
Jennifer scratched at the pitted counter on her side of the glass. "Talk about not knowing how you got somewhere."
Frannie forced a smile. "Look at me, talking to you here. I've got no business doing any complaining, seeing where you are."
"It’s okay," Jennifer said. "It's okay. I won't be here forever. Either way – at least I'm out of this place."
"I don't know how you're handling it."
Jennifer took a minute, swallowed, then forced her own smile. "It isn't like I've got much choice… He treats you right, does he? He doesn't hurt you?"
The segue here was unclear. "Who?"
"Dismas?" Frannie shifted her weight on the hard wooden chair. "No, I mean, yes, he treats me very right. He'd never hurt me. He loves me."
Jennifer gave her a look that seemed to ask what that had to do with it. But she said, "Did Eddie?"
"Hurt me? No, never."
Jennifer leaned back in the chair, ran both hands through her cropped hair. "It must be me," she said. "I've always believed it was me."
"What was you? What?"
Jennifer sat forward now, hunched. Slowly she lifted her hand and placed it against the glass. Frannie brought up hers, almost imagining she could feel the heat from Jennifer's skin. "Why they always hit me."
On the third floor, Dean Powell was listening to another Assistant DA analyze the merits of an aggravated assault.
The people who worked at the Hall of Justice spoke in a kind of code. San Francisco had a well-deserved reputation as the most politically correct of cities, and you could get yourself fired or worse if you labored for the City and inadvertently happened to use a word that had not been officially sanctioned – or had been officially proscribed – by some group or other.
The members of the police department and the District Attorney's office were among the most sensitive to irregularities in this area, and so had developed the most sophisticated code for use among themselves. Visitors could spend half a day in the Hall, people chatting all around, and be a hundred-and-eighty degrees off on what they thought they had heard.
Dean Powell, running for State Attorney General, still had to function as a prosecutor, and especially between now and November he was careful not to use too much of the code himself. Nevertheless, he didn't need a translator.
"If you ask me," Tony Feeney was telling him, "we got a stone BDI here. Professional women, some dispute over funding. Both of them Canadians. In my opinion, she'll go sideways like she has the three other times."
Feeney was another Assistant District Attorney, in Powell's office getting the more experienced man's take on whether he should even bother charging Mr. Duncan J. Dunlap for aggravated assault on his live-in girlfriend Byna Lewes – a "professional woman."
BDI was the code for a case in which the defendant believed and usually loudly proclaimed to police that the woman he had just savagely beaten or killed had brought the attack on herself. BDI stood for Bitch Deserved It. In this case Dunlap thought Lewes was holding out on him and might be about to choose another pimp. Feeney thought Lewes would "go sideways," which meant she'd refuse to testify or, even better, change her testimony on the stand. And, by the way, both parties were African-Americans, called "Canadians" by members of law enforcement to avoid offending anyone in earshot.
Byna Lewes had promised to testify against Mr. Dunlap on the three previous occasions when he'd beaten her, and each time she had relented, saying he was truly sorry (this time) and he really loved her. He just needed some help. Maybe the City could help pay for his counseling.
Powell crossed his hands behind his head. "You ever wonder why we keep doing this?"
Feeney had no response. He sat across from Powell, hoping he'd be remembered if Powell got lucky and took up residence in Sacramento.
"How badly was she hurt?" Feeney opened the folder, starting to take out the pictures. But Powell held out a hand, palm up. "Just describe it, Tony. How bad?"
The Polaroids had been taken by the arresting officer in Byna's hospital room shortly after the attack, before she'd been bandaged. Her left eye was swollen shut, her nose looked broken, there was blood in her hair and over her ear. Feeney went to the police report and saw she'd also had her arm dislocated. "Not bad," he said, about average.
"We charging it?"
Powell was getting to the meat of the issue. If Byna – the victim – would cooperate in the case against Mr. Dunlap, then he would be charged and the matter would proceed. If, on the other hand, the victim chose not to assist the prosecution, would not appear and testify – which in these cases was very common – then the case would fall apart.
"Well, it's a little iffy, is the problem. On picture night here" – Feeney gestured to the file – "Ms. Lewes had had enough, she was coming down as soon as she got out of the hospital and filing charges and put that bad man away."
"So what happened? He come see her?"
"He would have, but he was in jail at the time. But naturally, the minute he's out on bail, he buys her roses, candy, says he's sorry. Only this time she's not sure she believes him, but she's so afraid of him she doesn't want to testify."
"Logical. Good reasoning."
Feeney held up one finger. "But," he said, "she says if we give her a subpoena she'll testify."
"What a citizen! This is a beautiful story. And you're asking me what I'd do?"
"I know what you'd do, Dean. I'm just wondering how you'd explain it. We got a third offense, we've got a witness who says she'll testify. How do you just drop it?"
"You don’t drop it, Tony. You file it, hold her hand every day, and try not to feel too bad when she doesn't show up for the trial."
David Freeman's office was up one flight or ornate, scroll-bannistered stairs in the front corner of the old building on Sutter Street. Below him, the ground floor was comprised of the comfortable reception area, a conference room that faced a brick and ivy inner courtyard and a small law library. Four years before, Freeman had redecorated and put in a lot of glass down below, giving the place an open feel.
At the head of the stairs, outside Freeman's lair, Phyllis Wells kept the howlers at bay, the howlers being their own code name for associate attorneys.
Phyllis had been with David for thirty-two years and in that time had seen associates come and go – enter the practice as eager law school graduates hoping to ride the coattails of the brilliant David Freeman to fame and glory, carve a reputation in the city and perhaps beyond, become a partner in a reasonable six or seven years. Most didn't last two.
Not one had hung on to become a partner. They worked their twelve-hour days and nights and weekends and wrote briefs and even got trial experience and then moved on, either to their own practices, to one of the big downtown firms or out of the law altogether.
The reason: David Freeman did not want partners. Not for nothing had he named his firm David Freeman amp; Associates. It wasn't about to change.
He didn't like to delegate. No, Phyllis knew it was more than that. He was incapable of delegating. Which was why, she thought, this situation with Dismas Hardy was a little unusual – Hardy was doing work that Freeman had always done himself. Freeman even seemed relatively pleased with Hardy's results. This was so out of character that it worried Phyllis. She wondered if David were sick. If he would tell her if he was.
Not that she had anything against Hardy. There was a good feeling around him. He was nice-looking in a craggy way, not too lean. Sometimes maybe a bit too quick with the humorous phrase for her taste, but God knew she'd seen enough humorless attorneys pass through these halls. It was refreshing to have one who seemed not to take himself so seriously.
Freeman had instructed her to let Hardy come in when he needed to talk, confer, even visit. Of course, technically he wasn’t an associate, not one of the howlers. He wasn't even "of counsel." He just rented a room.
He came and went rather haphazardly and was beginning to show some sign of trusting her, which, of course, he could do, although she'd been somewhat resentful at the beginning when David had suggested he share her as his own secretary. But that had been working out, too. He was up on the fourth floor, connected to her by intercom that he rarely used.
Still, it was a change giving him information before she'd cleared it with David. Now her boss – Freeman would always be her boss – was at trial and her was Dismas Hardy, casually asking how Jennifer got referred to the firm. She had thought he already knew. Well, it wasn't a big issue – he had just come up the stairs from somewhere, snapped his finger and came back, stopping at her desk.
Jennifer Witt was David's client, there was no mistake about that, even though she remembered it was near Hardy's first month or so in the office when she'd buzzed him after she'd beeped David in court and he'd told her to get Hardy down there to meet Jennifer in jail. But if Phyllis had learned anything in thirty-two years in this business, it was that information was the coin of the realm, and its dissemination – almost always – was strictly need-to-know.
"It just occurred to me," Hardy was saying, "that here I've been learning all I can about this woman and I don't even know how we got involved with her. I mean, she thought I was David when I first met her, so she didn't know him either, am I right?"
Phyllis smiled, adjusting her glasses. "Didn't you ask her?"
He leaned comfortably against the partition separating her desk from the open hallway. "If I recall, she said something about her husband's lawyers, but I didn't know who they were."
"She couldn't tell you?"
"She could if I went over to the Hall, paid four dollars for a parking space, rode the slowest elevator in America up seven flights, got patted down and admitted by the guard into the women's jail, waited fifteen minutes for them to get Jennifer, and then asked her." He knew he was charming her and, more strangely, she knew it and didn't mind. Now he grinned openly. "You're stonewalling me, Phyylis. I can't tell."
The referral had come from Donna Bellows, a member of the firm of Goldberg Mullen amp; Roake. Hardy called her from his office, two flights up from Phyllis.
It was the middle of the week, the middle of the afternoon, and he got right through. Introducing himself, he was struck by the immediate chill that came over the deeply pitched voice.
"Perhaps it wasn't clear at the time, Mr. Hardy, but not only doesn't this firm take many criminal cases, I personally don't want anything to do with Mrs. Witt, so I'm not inclined to be of much help. I'm sorry."
"Did you know her? Personally?" He had to keep her talking or she was gone, and he did have something he wanted to get to.
"I never met the woman. I never want to. Now I'm sorry, but if you'll excuse-"
"Please, if I might – one quick question. Can you tell me anything about Crane amp; Crane? Any connection to Dr. Witt?"
Silence, the decision being made. Hardy knew that he and Ms. Bellows weren't adversaries in any real sense. She might have felt a loyalty – or more than that – to her client Larry Witt, but good lawyers at least tried to observe the professional courtesies with one another. Hardy was counting on that. He heard her sigh, going ahead with this distasteful discussion.
"All right, I'm sorry, Mr. Hardy. I liked Larry Witt. I read the papers and I'm afraid I believe that his wife killed him and their boy."
"From what you've read in the papers?"
"That, yes, and some other things."
"What other things?"
Another pause, considering, rejecting? "Let's get back to the one question, shall we?"
Though there might be a wide vein of information here, Hardy knew he'd have to let it go if he wanted to find out about Crane amp; Crane. He'd spent the better part of a frustrating yesterday and all of this morning chasing down the chimeras of "other dudes" – Melissa Roman's parents, Witt's first wife Molly, a Dr. Heffler from Dr. Lightner's form. He had not so much as spoken to any of them. Now he had Donna Bellows on the telephone and he'd take whatever she was willing to give.
"Crane amp; Crane. Some connection to Larry."
"That name is familiar in the sense that I believe I've heard it, that's all."
"It's a Los Angeles firm."
"That may be it. You say Larry and-?"
"I don't know. He called them a few days before he died."
"Before he was killed, you mean. He didn't just die. He was killed." He listened to her breathe for a moment. "I was Larry's financial advisor. With respect to Crane, he may have mentioned them in some context. This would have been about six months ago? Whatever it was, if anything, it couldn't have been too important. I really don't remember, but I can check."
"Would you mind?"
"Frankly, I do mind, Mr. Hardy. I don't like my clients being shot to death. It really bothers me. And I don't want to help their killers get free. But I'll look into it. I said I would and I will."
Hardy thanked her.
"I'll call you," she said, and hung up.
"Date night" was a free-form event. The traditional and sacred Wednesday ritual had taken them – before the children had been born – as far afield as Los Angeles or Reno or Santa Fe on the spur of the moment. Date nights had been known to continue for several days, Hardy calling in to the Shamrock to have his shifts covered while he and Frannie gambled or perused art galleries or decided to take the ferry out of Long Beach over to Santa Catalina, the island of romance.
Tonight they were on another ferry chugging across the bay to Sausalito. Out near Alcatraz the water was choppy, the wind high, the sun lost in a bank of fog that was rolling over and around the Golden Gate Bridge. The temperature was in the fifties.
"Ah, summertime." Frannie watched Dismas suck the bracing air. They stood at the front rail on the upper deck, blown and sprayed. "Nothing like the middle of July to get rid of the winter blahs."
Frannie leaned into the rail, holding onto it with both hands. "Maybe that's it," she said. "The winter blahs." She looked up at her husband, her smile as lost as the sunlight. He put an arm around her, bringing her inside his heavy coat, and she leaned into him.
"You all right?"
She considered whether she should tell him, how much she should tell him. She felt like she was sneaking out, cheating on him. But she didn't want to get into it, not just now. It would become a discussion, the theme for the night, and she didn't need that. She didn't need to clear everything with Dismas. She loved him, but she had her own life, her own feelings.
For Frannie, seeing Jennifer Witt was somehow bringing things to the surface and that, she felt, was good. Once she recognized what she was dealing with, she'd be better equipped to handle things. Questioning how you felt wasn't necessarily threatening to her and Dismas, or to the kids. She loved them all – her husband and her children. It wasn't that.
It was what she started to say to Jennifer – that there was just so much that she hadn't been able to take time for. She was losing sight of who she was, of who Frannie Rose McGuire Cochran (and now Hardy) had turned into and how it had all happened. And how she felt about it.
Was she just some adjunct to whatever man she was with, the bearer of their babies? She didn't really feel that with Dismas. She hadn't felt that way with Eddie. She and Eddie had been living an adventure. Eddie had been about to start graduate school when he'd been killed. They'd been saving money for everything, discovering new places, each other.
Then, suddenly, no warning, and Eddie was gone. And there was Dismas. Not in Eddie's old space, but close to it. And now, two years – five minutes? – later, she was a stay-at-home mother, with no money worries, where Dismas already knew all the good restaurants and the great places, where Dismas had already made the discoveries and so many of the decisions.
Like living in this old house – which, of course, they'd decided to do together. It made so much more sense. And she did love the house. But that wasn't it – the point was that even though she'd changed it to her tastes – brightened it up, painted, rearranged, added a room – it was still his house, Dismas' house, not really their house.
All of their friends, too, were his friends and their wives. Abe, Flo, Pico, Angela. Even Moses – her own brother – even Moses had been Hardy's friend long before she'd been in the picture. Not that she didn't like these people – she did, but she hadn't found them on her own.
What about her old friends? The people she and Eddie had known? Didn't they count? Why weren't they part of her new life anymore. Was it the kids, or Dismas, or herself?
She knew Dismas wouldn't approve of the extra visits to Jennifer. The original idea had been simply to set her mind at ease about the kind of person Jennifer was.
But now something else was happening, and it was important, tapping into a vein of her own that hadn't been mined in a couple of years. Maybe by talking about things with Jennifer – why she continued to let both of her husbands beat her, for example – Frannie could help her change, see the way things were supposed to work. It seemed worthwhile, even if Dismas didn't know about it.
She was sure he had some secrets from her. You didn't have to tell your spouse every thought and word and deed in your life.
And seeing Jennifer was doing her some good. She was Frannie's own friend, confidant, and Dismas didn't need to know about it. She could choose her own friends, make decisions for herself in her own life. Later, she'd tell him. Maybe after he and Freeman got Jennifer off. After the trial.
She was her own person, but somehow she'd let the predictable in her daily life devalue her. She even found herself wondering whether Dismas would keep loving her, why he loved her in the first place, all the while telling herself she deserved to be loved. You're a great girl. Wonderful, sensitive, cool – if you don't love yourself how can you love anybody else? How can anybody love you?
The ferry had entered the lee of Sausalito and the chop had flattened. Dismas tightened his arm around her. "Hello?"
It really didn't have anything to do with loving him. She loved him, his face and his body and the easy way he did things. It was just that she needed a little more of herself in her life.
"I'm here." She kissed his cheek.
Freeman's living room on Friday morning, and Hardy was sitting back in one of the leather chairs, Freeman in his maroon bathrobe checking off answers, making notes in pencil at the kitchen table.
"Molly wasn't here in December. She hadn't even heard he'd died, or she'd even a better actress than our client."
"How'd she take it?"
"I think it would depress me if the news of my death was greeted so warmly."
Freeman raised his bushy eyebrows, a question.
Hardy continued. "She hated his guts, even after lo these many years. He used to beat her, too."
Again the eyebrows went up. "But he didn't beat Jennifer."
Hardy kept a straight face. "That's our defense, right? He didn’t' beat her. So she says."
"Never laid a hand on her."
Hardy had finally spoken to Larry Witt's first wife, Molly. She was now a guidance counselor living and working in Fargo, North Dakota. She had not remarried and had not seen or heard from Dr. Witt in five years. "I guess we could have somebody double-check, see if she was in North Dakota over Christmas, but I'd bet she was. The news of Larry's death absolutely made her day."
Freeman put down his pencil, staring out the window. "Let's stop a minute, Diz. What kind of son-of-a-bitch was this guy?"
Crossing his legs, sitting back, Hardy took a minute. "By all accounts, he was a model citizen, total professional, concerned father, great provider. He just happened to beat his wives."
"You really believe that?"
"I don't know why Jennifer couldn't cop to it. Even if the legislature doesn't go for it, there's a good chance a jury would walk her, and no chance she'd get the death penalty. Powell wouldn't even ask."
Freeman was referring, Hardy knew, to the fact that the California Assembly had recently failed to pass an amendment that would have codified Battered-Woman Syndrome as a legitimate mitigation for murder. Since the courts were often accepting it anyway, the precedent was established and it was a moot question, but the legislature's action – or lack of it – was a definite setback for proponents of the defense. "I simply can't understand her resistance to it."
Hardy could go through all of Lighter's explanations, but it all came back to Jennifer's contention that if she admitted Larry beat her, then she had a reason to kill him that a jury might well convict on.
"But that's just it," Freeman continued, "they'd be just as likely – hell, more likely – to let her go!" He stood up, stretched, sat back down. "But you believe he did beat her?"
"Yes, absolutely. He was a control freak. She got out of line, he whacked her around."
"And she really felt she couldn't leave? She had to stay there and take it?"
"That's the profile, David. It's sad but it's true. He'd track her down if she left. He'd take the kid. He'd kill her if she tried. All of the above."
"So she killed him first. It worked with Ned, it ought to fly with Larry, right?"
Hardy shrugged. "She says not."
"Well." The pencil beat a tattoo on the table. "I must say, in all my years doing this, I haven't seen too many cases this pure. I'd like to watch her play poker, see if she bluffs."
"Maybe she's a Vulcan."
"What's that mean?"
It amazed Hardy. Was it possible that David Freeman had never seen "Star Trek," didn't know that Vulcans never bluff? Looking around the apartment, he realized it was probably so. There was no sign of a television. "Never mind, David. It's a long story. You want to keep going here?"
The tattooing stopped. "We'd better."
From Freeman's apartment, Hardy walked up the street a block and treated himself to lunch, alone, at the Stanford Court – he wanted an hour to think.
There had been no police report on the alleged break in of Larry Witt's car by Melissa Roman's parents or anybody else. Dr. Witt hadn't reported it, a fact which hadn't surprised Abe Glitsky, who had explained that the populace was beginning to understand that there was no such thing as a non-violent crime in San Francisco anymore.
There were bad things that happened, sure – like Larry's car – but if those things didn't physically hurt people, the police tended not to get involved. They weren't about to break out the troops tracking down a culprit who had lifted a five-hundred-dollar CD player from a car – they didn't have the manpower – any more than they would investigate a pine cone falling from a tree and breaking your windshield. Practically speaking it just couldn't be a police matter. Hardy loved it – vandalism as a force majeur.
He was having salmon again. Grilled with a light wasabe glaze. A glass of Hafner Chardonnay.
He was worried about Frannie.
Something was going on with her and she wasn't telling him about it. Maybe it was his continued involvement with Jennifer. She shouldn't have expected that one visit was going to change anything. And obviously, going to the jail had been a trauma.
He hated to see her unhappy. Maybe he was spending too much time running around for David, looking for a plausible "other dude." The inherent cynicism in it all was getting to him. David seemed to care almost nothing for the guilt or innocence of Jennifer, just whether he could get his client off. That was what he did for a living, he said. Was he really that cold? Was there a deeper concern behind the so-called professionalism? Hardy couldn't tell, couldn't really read David that well. And he suspected that that was just the way David wanted it. No black or white for Hardy in this case. Not with Jennifer, not with his colleague David, not with anything, which could wear a person down.
The waiter appeared now and asked if the food was satisfactory. Monsieur had not touched the plate. If he would like to order something else, of course…
Well, for today at least, Hardy decided he would not be looking for "other dudes." The crux of the matter in court was whether proof existed that Jennifer was a battered woman. Once that was established, the question of her culpability could be debated. Providing Jennifer cooperated.
Anyway, Hardy couldn't let Freeman shake his belief in some objective truth, in the facts. Something specific did happen, in a certain way and at a certain time. If he had any pretensions of seeing justice done, the first step was to uncover those facts.
He had Ken Lightner's assertions. He had seen the bruises on Jennifer's mother. He had the first wife's, Molly's, admission that Larry Witt had beaten her. He even had Jennifer's acknowledgment that she and Larry had been in "a few fights."
This was ammunition but it wasn't a smoking gun.
Dr. Saul Heffler was one of the doctors from Ken Lightner's list that Lightner had "accidentally" left on the bench for Hardy to find and pick up. Heffler had a practice in a one-story office building on Arguello, halfway from downtown to Hardy's house. The doctor and the lawyer had played a serious game of phone tag during the week and it was time to put an end to that, even if it meant sitting a while in a waiting room.
The gods smiled and a parking spot opened directly in front of the address as Hardy pulled up. He took this as a good omen.
Inside, the receptionist was blessedly free of bureaucratic baggage and informed Hardy that the doctor could probably block out some time in about an hour. Would that be all right?
Hardy walked up to Clement Street, drank a cup of iced espresso at an outside table to ward off the post wine-for-lunch slump, then bought some earrings for Frannie from a sidewalk vendor.
He loved lower Clement Street, had loved it through its incarnations, first as a Russian enclave with piroshki and antique shops, then as an upscale – though not too upscale – Haight
Street with its hippies, haze of incense, and coffeeshops, to now, a bustling Oriental bazaar with tea-smoked ducks hanging in windows and the slightly off yet somehow appealing commingled smells of cooked meat, raw seafood and garbage.
Strolling in the bright sunlight, enjoying the smells and the breeze, he bought a newly steamed pork bao and chewed it happily. There was a bright turquoise children's kimono in a window and he went inside the tiny store, buying it for Rebecca along with a tiny silk shirt for his boy.
He'd make this up to Frannie. Things were going to change. He wasn't sure how, but he wasn't going to let anything – not David, Jennifer, frustration, fear or silence – get between them and keep them apart.
Three minutes after he was back inside Heffler's office and the receptionist told him he could go right in.
Heffler's small but well-lit office had three diplomas and about six hundred mounted fishing flies on the walls. The man was in his mid-fifties with a full head of pepper-and-salt hair, a flat unlined face – a hint of Navajo? – over a lanky, gangling frame. He smiled easily.
Hardy explained the situation. He was, after all, working for Jennifer's defense. He wondered if the doctor would help him verify some background. He showed Heffler Jennifer's signed release allowing her doctor to discuss her medical history. (Hardy had told Jennifer he needed her medical records in connection with what had happened to her in Costa Rica.) He'd be glad to help, the doctor said. What did Hardy want to know? Hardy told him.
"This was four years ago? Five? I can't say I remember her offhand. I'll have Joanie pull the file. We keep the archives in the storeroom. Take two minutes."
They waited, talking fishing. Heffler was leaving the next morning for a six-day wilderness trip to Alaska, going after the huge salmon that ran up there, maybe some Arctic char. Hardy held a hand over his stomach. "Don't say salmon to me. I think I'm hitting my limit."
Joanie came in, handed over the file and left. Heffler opened it and flipped some pages, his face closing down. "You want to believe people. You wonder how much of this you really see."
"You got something?"
"I don't know what you call something. Maybe I should have seen this, suspected something. I don't know."
Hardy waited. Heffler read some more, then closed the file. "She was my patient for seven months, came in without a referral, said she'd just moved here from Florida. First time I saw her she had fallen down the steps in her new house."
"The first time?"
Heffler nodded. He opened the file again. "Three months later she broke her arm skiing. She thought it was just a sprain until she got home, otherwise she would have gotten it set up at Squaw Valley." He turned up a page, scanning. "This one," he said, "maybe I really should have seen this one."
"Three months after the arm – pretty regular, isn't it – she comes in with this fluke accident. She was cleaning out a closet and the shelf came off, loaded with stuff, slammed down against her back. Her urine had blood in it." He wasn't looking up. "Contusions and bruises over he kidneys, all the way across her back." He closed the file again. "I must have asked her, I can't imagine I didn't."
"And she just said no, simple as that?"
"And got herself another doctor." He took in a deep breath, let it out as a sigh. "I'm ready for a vacation," he said.
"You see a lot of this?"
"A lot? Some, I guess. I see some accidents. People hurt themselves. I can't go to the police every time someone breaks their arm, comes in with a black eye. I wouldn't have a practice left." He picked up the file, opened it, flicked impatiently at the pages. "Here's something."
Stuck to the back of the folder was a yellow post-it pad, and on it was a name and address. "I don't know why this is here."
He buzzed Joanie again and she came back. "Oh, that's just my note to myself when I get a request for records."
Heffler leaned forward, still frowning. "So this might have been the next physician this patient went to."
Joanie was as bright and cheerful as Heffler had been before this had begun. "It might be. I'd assume so, wouldn't you?"
"I told her I wouldn't treat her unless she let me inform the police. She ought to get some counseling. I saw her the one time and I knew right away."
Hardy was sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Helena Zamora's office. Now it was closing time. A tightly strung woman about Hardy's age, Zamora let him in but politely told him she had a dinner appointment in forty-five minutes and could spare him no more than ten. He outlined what he had learned at Dr. Heffler's and what he was trying to find.
"She came in," Dr. Zamora said, "with a large round bruise under one of her breasts an some cock-and-bull about tripping against a knob at the top of her bannister. I got suspicious, checked her sign-in form, sent for her records. Then I called her and never heard from her again."
She pulled her glasses up and balanced them on top of her forehead. "Common story, too common. Does that help you?"
Hardy said it did and thanked her.
Dr. Zamora took her glasses all the way off. "She finally killed the animal that was doing this, did she?"
"She's charged with it."
"Good for her."
From a phone booth in a gas station at 19^th and Kirkham, Hardy called Jennifer at the jail.
In San Francisco it is a myth that prisoners get one phone call. The common areas in the jail have pay telephones on the walls and whenever the inmates want to, they can use them. There had even been significant calling-card fraud that had been traced to both floors of the jail, a thriving black market in phone numbers and the "pins" that go with them.
"Jennifer. Hardy. I've got a quick question. Have you ever lived in Florida?"
There was a longish wait. "This is not a trick question, Jennifer. Have you ever lived in Florida, that's all?"
"No reason. Just checking something. Talk to you later."
So this Friday afternoon he had caught Jennifer in five lies – the fall down the stairs, the arm broken while she skied, the shelf accident, the know on top of the bannister, the state with Epcot and the Everglades. Lies, yes, except four of them were, apparently, to protect her husband. Sick yes, but mitigation, at least…
Frannie was on top of him, laying long against him, moving like a calm ocean. His arms surrounded her. The covers had been kicked onto the floor at the foot of the bed. She was wearing her new earrings and Hardy took one of them into his mouth.
"Careful," she said.
"I'm being careful."
"You're going a little too fast. This will slow you down some."
She bit into his shoulder. "I'm going to go a lot faster before I'm through."
"Let go then. You'll see."
"I knew this girl in high school," Moses said, "Rachelle Manning. We were in math together and I thought she was okay so I asked her out to some dance or something and she said sure."
They were queued up in a long line at Candlestick Park, having already missed half an inning when the last place Padres had scored four runs off the first-place Giants, waiting to buy two beers each for a mere four bucks a cup before they closed the stand for the day after the seventh inning.
It was the conceit of Giants' management that people who had a beer after the seventh inning would more likely drive under the influence than those other puritan souls who had had two beers early in the game and then stopped.
Frannie had already designated herself the driver, and Moses had had seven so far, and now was feeling every one of them. "So listen," he continued loudly, "word gets around and guys are coming up, putting rubbers in my pockets, patting me on the back, one of the big guys, telling me they've done it with Rachelle in their cars and in her parents' bed and behind the student union and under the goddamn principal's desk on the weekend."
The guy behind them in line tapped McGuire on the shoulder. "I did it under the stands during a basketball game once. Best sex I ever had."
Hardy and Moses told him they thought that must have been great. They moved up a step. Hardy signaled maybe McGuire should tone it down.
"Anyway, I figured it had to be some kind of joke. I mean, Rachelle Manning is not a slut. She's not putting out for the football team. This is a sweet young thing – nice clothes, nice family, clean hair."
"Hair's important." Hardy moved closer to the beer vendor. The stands erupted with more noise, action on the field they were missing. "I was always a hair guy myself."
"So, I take her out, I'm a little nervous, thinking… you know what I'm thinking. We're not out of her driveway and her hand is on me, I swear to God."
"I loved high school. I could do high school again."
"Turned out to be a hell of a night. I don't think we hit the dance. If we did, I don't remember it."
They finally got their beers and starting moving back to the stands.
"It's a truly moving story, Mose, but was there a moral here I missed? I thought we were talking about Jennifer Witt."
"Of course we were talking about Jennifer Witt. You're a lawyer and she's your case, so that's what we talk about, and talk about, and talk about. But" – Moses drank a third of his beer – "and I reiterate, but there's some people – and I hate to say this but women seem better at it than men, you just can't tell anything. This is how Rachelle relates to the fascinating and mysterious Mrs. Witt. Looking at her back then, you would never have had a clue. Talking to her, you'd never know. I mean, I would have bet the horse that this girl was a stone virgin."
"Maybe she was."
Moses couldn't help grinning. "She definitely wasn't the next morning. I have it on the highest authority."
"What?" Susan said. They were back in their seats, ten rows back on the first base side. Great seats.
Moses got himself seated and didn't miss a beat. "Just talking about Jennifer Witt, about how some women lie."
Frannie had her beer and poured some into Moses' lap. "Oh, sorry, dear brother." She made a show of brushing it off. "If I'm not mistaken, men lie too."
"Okay, everybody lies at one time or another, but my point to Diz was that there are some women, and I just say women because in my own private experience I haven't run across this in that many men, who seem to embody conflicting personality traits – I mean they seem to be two completely different people, and still they walk around and act normal and you'd never know."
Frannie leaned over and spoke to Susan. "There's still time. You're not married yet. You can get out of this."
Moses had a Ph. D. in philosophy that he liked to say he'd outgrown. He had not outgrown his love of talk, however. The words flowed, and sometimes Hardy thought he even thought about them before they came out, although this didn't appear to be one of those times. "Frannie, I'm not saying you or Susan. Look at all the literature on it – The Two Faces of Eve, Sybil, all of them.
"All two of them."
"It's well-documented. You don’t have to get so riled up about it. Women just hide things better. They're taught to as kids. Let's face it, if they're liars, they're better liars. It's a compliment!"
"I think I'll cut him off here," Susan said. She lifted what was left of his last beer and held it on her lap. "I still love you but you're getting close. Jesus. Women lie better. It's a compliment?"
"Who's winning?" Hardy asked, trying to end it here, but Frannie wasn't having it.
"What about men who beat their wives, Moses? You think you can tell just by looking at them? You think that's not living some monstrous lie?"
Moses thought a minute. "I think you could tell somehow, if you got to know them."
Hardy entered. "Yeah, like if you got married to one and he beat you, then you'd know."
"This isn't funny." Frannie turned on her husband. "Don't make a joke of it, Dismas."
"I'm not making a joke out of it, Frannie. I'm on your side here, okay? What's your problem."
"My problem? It's not my problem! My brother says all women are liars and I don't accept that and that's my problem?"
"I didn't say all women. I said-"
"I know what you said. What I'm saying is this isn't my… god… damn problem."
Suddenly Frannie was on her feet, half-falling over her brother and Susan, getting to the aisle, running up out of the stands. Hardy looked helplessly after her. Susan got up and followed.
Moses was shaking his head. "What did I say?"
It was after six when, exhausted, they finally found a parking space around the corner, unloaded the sleeping kids from the car seats and carried them – one each – a half-block to the picket fence that bordered their lawn.
Phil and Tom DiStephano were sitting on their front steps. They stood up together, both in denim and T-shirts.
Hardy swore under his breath. He opened the gate and stepped in front of Frannie. "This isn't a good time, guys," he said. Rebecca shifted, loose and gangling, in his arms, and he bolstered her up.
"You hiding behind some babies and a girl?" Phil had been drinking. A lot. His eyes were out of focus – he was having trouble keeping his balance.
Hardy kept his voice low. "I'm not hiding behind anything. How'd you find out where I live?"
"That's for you to know, asshole." Tom, the son, had talked to his dad, got his attitude adjusted. When Hardy had gone down with the six-pack and interviewed him last time he'd been surly but gradually somewhat cooperative. Now – never mind the profanity – his body language said it all. He was ready for a fight, blocking the path.
Hardy gave them both a weary, practiced smile. "Let's move on, guys. All the way off the property. We're going in."
Neither man moved. "You come over to my home and molest my wife? You think you're getting away with that?" Phil said.
"Put down your kid, asshole." Tom's little mantra of "asshole" was getting under Hardy's skin. He half-turned back to where Frannie stood, as though rooted to the ground, holding Vincent. He was about to herd them all back to the car, drive down to the Safeway on Clement and call the police. Was about to.
"Takes a brave man to hide behind his kid," Phil said.
"You men get out of here?" Frannie's momentary shock had worn off. She started to step around Hardy but he held out a hand, stopping her. "We're going inside," he said. "Follow me."
He tried to get Rebecca to stir, to put her down, have her somehow be protected behind him, but she was dead weight in his arms. He turned back. "I'm real impressed with a guy who beats his wife. Takes guts. A real man."
"You put down your kid I'll show you a real man."
"You and your son Tom here. Two on one. That's about your speed, isn't it, Phil?"
"What's your speed, asshole?"
Hardy squared away on Tom. "That's for you to figure out." He paused, considered, decided against anything, moving forward. "Get out of my way. Right now. Anybody here gets touched you're going to wish you weren't born."
"Oooh, tough guy!"
Hardy the Vulcan nodded. "If that's what it takes," and started walking, Frannie a step behind him. First Phil, then Tom, stepped aside and let Frannie go by, covering her back. With macho desperadoes like these, he knew a rock wasn't out of the question.
Her hands were shaking and she had some trouble with the door so he stepped in, turned the key and pushed it open. Before he entered himself, he turned around. "The next time I look out here, you guys had better be gone. Go sleep it off before you get into real trouble."
Phil pointed a finger at him. "You go near my wife again, Hardy…"
Frannie got sick – all day out in the sun, the outburst at the ballpark, the tension out front. Hardy tended to her, ran her a cool bath and did all the kid stuff, getting them down before he tucked Frannie in. It was still light outside.
He went to his chair in the living room, put on some classical music – was Freeman getting to him? – and started reading the paperback of A Brief History of Time, recommended by both Moses and Abe, separately. Black holes, the Big Bang, String Theory, maybe even God.
But he couldn't concentrate.
Or rather he couldn't get the confrontation out of his mind. He was racing, the adrenalin pumped and nowhere to go. How had they found where he lived? He'd given Nancy his home telephone number, a mistake. He knew that a reverse listing, even of an unlisted number, was as close as the nearest phone-company employee, and PacBell was probably the biggest employer in the state. Stupid.
He considered options, several illegal – going back out to Phil's house with a handgun, make the point a little more strongly that he didn't want them coming around anymore. Go back without the gun. Call the police, report Phil's battery of his wife? Report tonight's disturbance and threat? But he remembered Glitsky's words – random mischief just wasn't a crime, wasn't a police matter in San Francisco anymore.
He wondered what Phil had done – might be doing – to Nancy when he got home with his own unspent load of adrenalin. After Tom left, then what?
He picked up the telephone and got the number for Park Station. It might be a dead night, some red-hot young patrol person wanting to make some bones, do a little more than the minimum. Nothing ventured… it might do a little good.
"I'm not giving a name," Hardy said, "and this is not an emergency, but you might want to send a car…"
At the Shamrock it wasn't dead but it was slow. Sunday night. The new man – Hardy's replacement – was behind the bar. The juke was going steadily, not too loud – the Shamrock's usual mix of mostly old rock and roll and Irish folksongs. Since the day two years before when Moses had finally removed and ceremoniously smashed the '45 of "The Unicorn" – "green alligators and long-necked geese, some hump-back camels and chimpanzees" – Hardy didn't think there was a loser in the box.
On his second Guinness, Hardy was in a game of "301" with one of the locals named Ronnie. Ronnie was one side or the other of thirty, a piano player in a band that had the night off. He also illustrated children's books. Ronnie was a class act, evidently talented, certainly a match for Hardy at darts. He also possessed a deal of gray matter.
"My problem with it," he was saying, pegging his own customs at the board, "is that I have a hard time imagining some brother or father letting their own sister, or daughter – especially daughter – get executed for a murder they committed."
"She's a long way from executed. If she gets off the worst of it is they put her through a bad time."
"A murder trial is some serious bad time."
"Try living with these guys."
Ronnie retrieved his round – two twenties and a five – drew a line through the "182" on the chalkboard and without a pause, without even seeming to look at the board, scribbled in "137." Even dumb dart throwers got good at subtraction – and Ronnie was a computer.
Hardy stepped to the line. "Could be just bad luck. They didn't know she was even going to be charged. So now they're just waiting to see what happens."
Triple-twenty, a good start. He took a sip of the stout.
"You know," Ronnie said, "I just thought of something – what if one of them was trying to kill her, too – I mean kill all three of them – and she just didn't happen to be home?"
Hardy stopped, his dart poised.
Ronnie was into it. "Do you know who's the beneficiary if the whole family's wiped out at once?" Hardy's dart sailed, a second triple-twenty. Three in a row – a "180" round – was worth a free drink in any bar in the city. "Give me a break," Ronnie said. Then: "Did he have any other family? The husband? Who might have inherited anything?"
"I don't know," Hardy said. "It's a good question."
He threw the third dart, which kissed the flights of the other two but landed a millimeter above them in the "20" but outside the triple ring.
"Not a bad round," Ronnie said.
"That man was the devil."
Penny Roman, mother of Melissa, who had died from the botched abortion attempt, believed it. She was not old but somehow conveyed age – her hair was frosted to a flat glaze, her make-up heavy. She wore a calico print grannie dress with a frilly collar that had probably been designed for a teenager and the effect, as she walked in her flip-flops, carrying a tray with coffee and mugs, was nearly-grotesque.
"Now, Pen." Her husband Cecil sported a clipped graying mustache, a pencil in his ear, over-the-counter reading glasses, green slacks. "He might have been in the hands of the devil, doing the work of the devil…"
"He was the devil."
Cecil shrugged at Hardy. "It's been very hard. You can't imagine."
He was almost sorrier that he'd come out here, by Mission Dolores, to the thousand-square-foot house with the feeling of doors and windows that never opened. Jesus and Mary peered down from three framed prints in the small room where they all sat, cramped and airless, Hardy and Cecil on the chintz-covered sofa and Penny on the from half of a wing-back chair. An oversized, ornately framed picture of their daughter Melissa smiled at Hardy from the end table. Cecil wheeled up a little metal portable stand for the coffee tray and their cups.
The Romans were an unturned stone that he had discussed with Freeman, who had upbraided him for his scruples about whether or not the Romans had actually ever dreamed of hurting Larry Witt. The question was: Could he point at them? Could they, however tangentially, deflect the prosecution's case?
He also didn't love the idea that he was here on this Tuesday morning under false pretenses, keeping the appointment he had made with them yesterday after telling them he was a policeman. If Terrell or Glitsky couldn't or wouldn't do it…
When he had been an Assistant District Attorney Hardy had gone shopping one day in South San Francisco at the badge store. Badges were neither sanctioned nor forbidden by the office – everyone realized that sometimes they came in handy, especially with people whose English might not be perfect and who were used to looking at badges, who knew essentially what they meant even if some of the nuances were missing.
So he had been Officer Hardy on the phone, and now he had a badge. They had let him right in.
"This is just routine, especially after this much time. We keep trying to catch up. Someday, maybe." Hardy smiled ingratiatingly, sipped his coffee and opened the manila folder he had brought with him. The folder did not contain a police report on the reported vandalism to Dr. Witt's car. Instead, Hardy had borrowed for the morning his own copy of the police report on his client Mr. Frankl – the man who had thought – erroneously as it had turned out – that he had a defense for DUI. The Romans did not notice the deception.
"What does he say about us?"
Cecil was trying to see something he recognized in the folder. Hardy moved it away. "Frankly, he accuses you of breaking into his car, stealing his radio…"
"That's ridiculous!" Penny spilled coffee over into her saucer. "He's a liar, too."
"He's not anything anymore, ma'am. He's dead."
"Yes, I know that. Of course." Her lips tightened, trying to hold it in and failing. "And I'm glad he is."
"Now, Pen." Cecil reached his left hand across the table and laid it on his wife's knee. "We have to be Christians here. Hate the sin but love the sinner."
"I can't, I can't do it."
Cecil patted the knee absently. His attention back at Hardy, his hand stayed where it was and it made him sit crookedly. "Dr. Witt was a sinner, Officer. But that doesn't mean we broke into his car." He gestured around the room. "Do we look like the… like we steal radios out of cars? Why would we? What would it prove? Would it bring our daughter back?"
Hardy was beginning to think it was pretty likely that, in fact, they hadn't broken into Dr. Witt's car. If anyone had. He jotted a reminder to ask Jennifer.
"You say Dr. Witt was a sinner, though. Did you know him personally?"
Hardy saw the tendons of Cecil's left hand rise up. He was squeezing his wife's knee hard. There was no reaction from her – Cecil's calm was chilling. "Dr. Witt was an abortionist, Officer. He killed our daughter."
They went through it, as Hardy knew they would have to. Penny began to cry, silently, unmoving. To them both, it was a seamless tale of evil's cause and effect – their daughter's unfortunate lust, her sin, not accepting God's will and bringing to fruit the life she had created, allowing Witt to turn the blade on her baby, finally casting her lot with the abortionists, the killers and – as Cecil and Penny had known would happen – they wound up killing her.
Hardy closed the folder.
"He deserved what he got." Penny couldn't hold herself in any longer. Cecil's hand tightened again. "We read about it in the papers, naturally. The Lord takes care of His own."
"I think someone else took care of Dr. Witt," Hardy said.
"He wasn't the Lord's, Officer. He was the devil. He was the last instrument of Melissa's torture. We never even saw his car. I don't know what kind of car he had." Penny began crying. "We didn't know anything about him. Now he's coming back from the dead to punish us some more."
Hardy was standing up, wanting out of there. "No, ma'am, he's not. He's not going to punish you. I'm closing this file and we're going to forget all about it. I believe you."
Gradually, the fire went out. Penny sat back, deflated, managing a weak "thank you."
Cecil walked with him to the door, took a couple of steps outside. It was another clear morning, with a light breeze. The Sutro Tower sparkled in the sun a mile away. Cecil stared at it for a long moment. "It does get meted out, you know. Punishment."
"We hope so." Hardy the cop, playing the role.
"I'm talking about him, about Dr. Witt."
"You know, after he killed Melissa, before he was killed himself, I knew he was living in his fine house, making all kinds of money, profiting form his sins…"
Hardy wondered if Cecil knew that Witt had volunteered for his work at the Mission Hills Clinic. But this wasn't the time to tell him.
"And I know that's the way in this world. Sinners prosper. But once in a while we see proof. We see some justice here in this world. It gets meted out."
"Yes, sir." They shook hands.
It wasn't until he was back downtown, parking at Sutter Street, that he realized what Cecil had said. Penny may have believed she knew – they knew – nothing about Dr. Witt, but Cecil obviously knew he lived in a fine house up by Sutro Tower. And he had known that before he'd read about it in the papers.
Hardy talked to Jennifer and learned that Larry's car had been vandalized but he hadn't reported it to the police. What were the police going to do about it? He'd simply gotten it fixed, bought a new radio. That's what you did. Insurance had covered it.
Larry had been an only child and his parents had died long ago. The Witt family had been alone in the world and they felt like it. That was why, she said, Larry was so protective, wouldn't let her go out on her own, wanted to know where she was all the time – so he could be sure she was all right, that the family was safe.
She and Larry had agreed that they didn't want Phil and Nancy to be Matt's guardians. So Larry had asked one of his cousins – Laurie something who lived down in Orange County – if she'd take the responsibility if it ever came down to that.
But all that notwithstanding, Jennifer's family – as closest next of kin – in fact would have inherited if Jennifer had been killed along with Larry and Matt.
Still, after all that, and though he'd be happy if it turned out that Tom or Phil or even the Romans had had a hand in Larry Witt's murder, Hardy didn't really believe any of them had. He was reaching.
After his day with her physicians, his gut told him that Jennifer was probably guilty of what she'd been charged with. He'd just about come around to believing, as Freeman did, that she had killed first-husband Ned and second-husband Larry to stop them from beating her. And somehow, tragically, by mistake, Matt had gotten in the way.
Frannie put her hand up against the Plexiglas and Jennifer did the same. They stared at one another for a long moment. Frannie hadn't really planned to visit Jennifer again. She'd left the kids with Erin, intended to go shopping.
Maybe it had been the scene with Jennifer's father and brother, maybe she just wanted reassurance that they weren't really so dangerous. Maybe she felt a little guilty, starting something with Jennifer she wasn't prepared to follow through on. She wasn't sure – it was complicated, but the fact was that she was here now.
Jennifer broke the silence. "You don't look so good. Are you all right?"
Slowly at first, then gradually building into a torrent of words, surprising herself, Frannie told about her fight with her brother Moses, the trouble with Dismas that seemed to be getting a life of its own, her guilt over leaving her children – again – with Erin Cochran, Rebecca's grandmother. Only at the end did she get to Phil and Tom DiStephano and their threat last night.
"My father and brother came to your house? Why did they do that?"
"I think to beat up Dismas. Maybe just threaten him. They were pretty drunk, I think. But it scared me to death."
Jennifer's eyes went to the hands pressed together on either side of the glass. "Those idiots. It never ends." She let out a long breath. What were they threatening him about?"
"Something about molesting your mother. Dismas told me he'd gone and seen her-"
"I know. And my father had beaten her up. He told me that, too."
Frannie was scared. She'd been frightened all morning, jumping at little noises, when the telephone rang, imagining the rooms and their house violated, the door broken down, the windows shattered. Angry, or embarrassed, or both, she'd had no heart to discuss it with Dismas before he'd gone out.
"I just talked to him again, you know. Your husband. He wanted to know if… he wanted to know some things about my parents. He didn't mention anything about last night."
"Was he here?"
Jennifer shook her head. "He called me on the phone. It's a hassle getting up here anyway and he just had a couple of questions. No, you and he are… separate." She paused. "Men are separate. That's just the way it is. I tell them what they need to know. They ask me questions and I answer them."
"So what about your father? What do you think he's going to do?"
"I don't know. Against another man? I don't know. Or my brother either."
"Do you think they'd hurt our kids? If they touched…" Frannie stopped, unable to say it.
"You'd kill them?"
Frannie nodded, startled by the sudden realization that she would kill to protect her children. "Is that what happened?" she asked. "Larry started hitting Matt?"
For a moment, she thought Jennifer was just going to nod and say "yes." But there was a withdrawal, something in her posture, her eyes. Her hand came away from the Plexiglas.
"I wouldn't worry," she said finally. "I think it's okay. My father won't do anything. Besides, men only hit when they think you won't hit back." Jennifer sat forward, legs crossed. "I'd kill for a cigarette," she said. And added, "One time Ned, my first husband, decided this dentist was coming on to me and he went over, pounded his chest a couple of times – or at least he said he did – then came back and beat me up." Her face broke into a sad, almost wistful smile. "Same as always."
"What did you do?" Frannie was leaning forward, her hand alone pressed to the glass. "How could you let that go on?"
Jennifer sighed again, crossing her arms and staring into the middle distance above them.
"I'm listening," Frannie said.
Jennifer's hand moved to the Plexiglas. Her face seemed to harden with the memory, whatever it was. She was whispering, intent, eyes on Frannie's. "You don't want to know."
Hardy had mentioned it more or less casually – an annoyance more than anything else – but Abe Glitsky did not like the fact that Phil and Tom DiStephano had gone proactive on his best friend. It wasn't so much the threat itself – after all, nothing had really happened, no serious crime had taken place. Glitsky's view that all but the most heinous acts went uninvestigated and unpunished in San Francisco did not mean, however, that uncivilized behavior was okay by him. His days as a beat cop were not so far behind him that he didn't remember the force a policeman could bring to bear on an individual who needed a lesson in etiquette or control.
Phil DiStephano was a plumber who worked out of a medium-sized shop near the Kezar Pavilion. The dispatcher told Glitsky that Phil and two of the other guys were out to lunch and ought to be back within fifteen minutes, so he decided to wait.
It wasn't that long. Glitsky stood up, the scar through his lips stretching into a white line as he found himself enduring the half-hostile stares of the three rednecks. Half-Caucasian, sometimes he found himself hating white people more than he ever hated all but the most repugnant of blacks. He thought it was probably a flaw in his character. He'd work on it someday, he really would.
The dispatcher said something and the biggest of the three men turned around. He spoke in mannered polite tones, ostensibly cooperative. "I'm Phil DiStephano, is there a problem?"
Glitsky had flashed his badge earlier and no doubt the dispatcher had passed along the information that this casually dressed strapping black man was the law. The other two plumbers flanked Phil but seemed to be waiting for an excuse now to go to the back room or their truck or wherever it was they went while they waited to fix drains and unplug sewer lines. He took out his badge again. "If you could spare a couple of minutes."
He motioned outside – a jog of his head. Opening the door, he didn’t look back, but went halfway across the sidewalk and turned, arranging it so that the sun was behind him. When he turned, Phil had followed him and stood off a few steps, squinting, beginning to sweat.
Glitsky let him.
He took it for about ten seconds, which seemed like a very long time. "We got a problem here, Officer? I've go some calls I've got to-"
"Dismas Hardy." Glitsky wanted it so quiet that Phil would have to listen carefully.
Glitsky repeated it. "Your daughter's attorney? Guy you visited last night?"
Phil put up a hand. "Hey, now you wait a minute. Hardy came by my house. I don't know what he's telling you but he's the one…"
Phil went on a while longer, the sweat now shining across his forehead. When he wound down, Glitsky asked him if he was all finished.
"I don't know if I am." Phil seemed heartened by Glitsky's tolerance, his quiet patience – arms folded, hearing him out. "I'm thinking maybe I should call in some report on him, you know. He's gonna keep up this kind of harassment-"
"I'm harassing you?"
"No! No, I didn't mean that. I meant him coming to my place, bothering my wife."
It had gone on long enough. Glitsky thought that another of his flaws was that he hadn't sufficiently enjoyed burning up ants under a magnifying glass when he was a kid. He nodded his head, as though he'd taken in all of Phil's information, considered it carefully. "Hardy didn't bother your wife."
"Sure he did. He was there and-"
"Andi if I hear that you've threatened him again, you're going to find life in this town very hard. You're going to get speeding tickets. You're going to get towed whenever you park."
Phil was moving into Righteous Indignation, Act I. "Are you threatening me?"
"It's entirely possible you could even lose your job. Bosses don't like employees who have the cops down on them. It's bad for business."
"I don't have to listen to this. What's your name again? You can't do this."
Glitsky's scar shone bright through a cold smile. "I'll bet I can." He lowered his voice. "The name is Inspector Sergeant Abraham Glitsky – you need me to spell it? I'll give you my badge number if you want."
Phil stood there, the sweat running down his face. Glitsky moved a step closer. "Hardy's a friend of mine. I'd make him a friend of yours, too. In fact, I'd say it's in your best interest to see that nothing bad happens to him – because if it does, I might be tempted to think you were part of it, and that would be unfortunate for you."
He turned and left Phil sweating in the sun. Getting into his car, he heard and ignored the explosion of obscenity. He had expected it and it rolled off. He had delivered his message, put out the word. It was what he'd come down for.
By Friday, in spite of her assurances to the contrary, Donna Bellows had not called back with news of any connection between Crane amp; Crane and Larry Witt. Freeman was chomping for any crumbs he might use at trial, so Hardy, covering the bases, thought that he'd call down to LA again, though he entertained little hope that there was even a tangential link between Simpson Crane's murder in Los Angeles and Larry Witt's in San Francisco.
On reflection, the whole thing was so tenuous that he didn't want to pursue it at all. Which was why he had hoped that Donna Bellows would have called him back – so he wouldn't have to chase this phantom himself. Nevertheless, he was doing his job, following leads that so far led nowhere. Freeman wanted them all to juggle, see how much he could keep in the air – as he'd often done in the past – sufficiently dazzle the jury with his legerdemain so they wouldn't notice it was being done with mirrors.
Look this way, now look at this. What about this? Whoa! There's a neat trick. Anything to distract, to draw attention away from the evidence they both thought had a good chance of damning their client.
Hardy's feet were on his desk. The door out to his hallway was open and so was the window over Sutter Street behind him. Faintly, he smelled the Bay. The cross-ventilation felt good in the room. The phone down in Los Angeles was ringing and he picked up a quick dart and tossed it across at his board – it landed in the "1", a quarter-inch from "20."
He spoke to a monotonic receptionist, who put him on hold. Waiting, he threw another dart, this time hit the "20," and was talking to an extremely formal secretary.
"Mr. Crane is in a meeting right now. May I help you?"
Hardy tended to respect secretaries – even formal ones like Phyllis – but he had a hard time with the Secretary-as-Keeper-of-the-Gate school. He thought that in the long run, for important issues, it wasted far more time than it saved. Principals ought to talk to principals.
He was polite. "If Mr. Crane is in, I'll be glad to hold. It's a matter of some urgency regarding a murder trial."
There was a sigh, another long hold, then a weary man's voice. "Todd Crane."
Hardy raised his victory fist in the air, introducing himself, expressing his condolences. But Crane kept it to the point. "Maxine said this was about a murder trial. How can I help you?"
Hardy explained about the post-it he'd found under Larry Witt's blotter with Crane amp; Crane's number written on it, the word "No" underlined and circled several times.
"I'm afraid I don’t… What was this victim's name again?"
"Larry Witt. Dr. Larry Witt."
"Sorry. I'm drawing a blank on that."
Hardy took a shot. "How about the Yerba Buena Medical Group?
"Okay, Was Witt with them? We handle their business development. That's Jody Bachman." He spelled it for Hardy. "You want me to connect you?"
The telephone – presumably in Jody Bachman's office – rang ten times before Bachman's voice mail picked it up. Thinking here we go again, Hardy left his name and number and a brief description of what he wanted.
He got up, threw the last dart on his desk and hit the "5" on the other side of "20," then turned around and looked down out the window onto Sutter Street. In spite of Bachman not being in, he found himself somewhat encouraged.
There was, finally, a link between Larry Witt and Crane amp; Crane. Sure, he knew that there would have had to be since the Post-it had had Crane's number on it, but the relationship had proved elusive to establish. And now he'd done that. Like the cross-ventilation, it felt good. Finding out facts felt good.
Of course, what those facts supported – what they even meant – was another issue altogether, and since it was Friday afternoon, Hardy didn't feel much in the mood to pursue that line. Facts related to the "other dudes" line of defense seemed to lead to a fork in the road to the truth that led to a dead end.
He had uncovered a fact. But did it lead anywhere?
The police in Los Angeles thought, although they couldn't prove it, that a hit man had murdered Simpson Crane and his wife. Simpson's firm – one of the partners anyway – handled the business development of the medical group that Larry Witt belonged to. Even a genius like David was going to have a difficult time establishing any provable causality between those two bits of data.
At least Hardy felt like he'd done his job. Bachman would call him back about details before they really got into the trial, which probably wouldn't be for another month or so. Glitsky had consented, reluctantly, to see what he could find out about the Romans on the day of Larry's murder. Over the next weeks he might see Nancy DiStephano again and try to get a line on where Phil and Tom had been on the Monday after Christmas.
So Hardy had "other dudes" by the carload. For the time being, his job would be to assist David Freeman, research legal issues that might come up, prepare for his own phase of the trial, the penalty phase, if Jennifer got convicted.
He was going to see what David Freeman could do with his brains, his showmanship, his fabled, much ballyhooed je ne sais quoi.
On Monday, July 29, Oscar Thomasino had slammed down his gavel and sent the case of The People of The State of California v. Jennifer Lee Witt to Department 25, the courtroom of Judge Joan Villars. That formality was quickly followed by a flurry of motions made and denied. Jury selection would begin as scheduled on August 23.
David Freeman had immediately filed his pro forma Penal Code 995 motion for dismissal, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to proceed and, as expected, Judge Villars had thrown that out. If a grand jury had found sufficient evidence to indict on three counts of murder, it was an unusually brave or foolish judge who would cast aside their decision.
Jennifer's hair had grown out, her bruises had disappeared. When she appeared in the courtroom for the first time flanked by two bailiffs, a buzz went up in the gallery. The defendant looked like a movie star.
Gone was the red "jail escapee" jumpsuit; gone were the leg irons and handcuffs. Judge Villars, prodded by Freeman, had agreed that they would be prejudicial to his client. Also, there would be no need to shackle her to her chair at the defense table. Although Jennifer had broken out of jail, even Powell admitted that there was little risk that she would bolt and escape the courtroom.
Jennifer wore low heels, nude hosiery, a stylish, muted coral dress with a hem an inch above her very attractive knees. Freeman had arranged to have someone come into the jail and do her hair, and now it shone clean, blonde, just long enough to be feminine and proper. Diamond stud earrings. A tasteful touch of make-up.
They led her in before the judge entered, while the members of the media as well as the eighty potential jurors were finding their seats behind the rail. Hardy, who had been talking with Frannie at the defense table on the left side of the courtroom, heard the noise in the gallery and looked up, stopping in mid-sentence. "My goodness," he said.
Freeman half-turned. A few flash bulbs went off – Villars would put a stop to that as soon as she came in, but for now Jennifer was fair game. She smiled in her ambiguous way – either shy or posing – and more bulbs went off.
The bailiffs delivered her to Freeman, who put an avuncular arm around her waist, guiding her to a chair between himself and Hardy. "You look good," Freeman told her. "Just right."
"I'm scared," Jennifer said.
Freeman rubbed a hand over her back. "It's all right, that's natural. You just sit here and relax."
Hardy noticed that her hands were shaking. She clasped them together on the table in front of her, her fingers tightly intertwined. Freeman came around on her right and covered them with one of his gnarled paws.
Over the past weeks Hardy had seen the earlier animosity between lawyer and client dissipate as they worked together fashioning a defense. Now, though Freeman still apparently believed that Jennifer was lying about her innocence, he had somehow convinced her that he was her best and most trusted friend – that he, personally, was her only salvation. Accordingly, she had come to cling to him, her life raft in a stormy sea. That was all right with Hardy, who might yet have his own role to play, and it would not be as liaison between Jennifer and David Freeman.
It was 9:23. Villars would enter in seven minutes. Dean Powell and his associate, a young Assistant DA named Justin Morehouse, were conferring, shuffling papers on their table a dozen feet to Hardy's right.
Dr. Ken Lightner had come up to the rail, and Jennifer turned in her chair, then stood and put her arms around him. One of the bailiffs came moving up fast, but Freeman held out a hand and somehow restrained him from breaking them up. It was over in seconds anyway, Jennifer pulling away, kissing Lightner's cheek.
Hardy made a mental note – probably Freeman did too – to caution Jennifer about these kinds of public embraces. They could too easily be misinterpreted. Both Hardy and Freeman knew about the bond between Jennifer and Lightner, but it would be difficult to explain to a jury. Woman accused of killing two of her husbands hugs another man as her trial begins. No, it wouldn't look good.
Jennifer, Freeman and Lighner were huddled, whispering together at the railing that separated the gallery from the courtroom proper. Walter Terrell had appeared and was having a few words with Powell and Morehouse.
Even though he would play no active role in this part of the trial, Hardy's mouth was dry, his stomach jumpy and sour. He turned in his chair to pour himself a glass of water in time to see the door open behind the judge's bench, the clerk intoning that all should rise, Department 25 of the Superior Court for the City and County of San Francisco was in session, Judge Joan Villars presiding.
The concept of voir dire – the questioning and selection of jurors – had undergone a sea change in California since the passage in June 1991 of Proposition 115. Before that time, attorneys on both sides of a case were given a wide latitude in questions they could ask prospective jurors. What did they do for a living? How many brothers and sisters did they have? What were their hobbies? Favorite books and/or movies? Feelings about puppies? Cats? Goldfish? Almost anything went if it might serve to bring out a prospective juror's character. Often the questions were thinly disguised speeches designed to sway prospective jurors. And because of this, jury selection in a capital case such as this one could easily take as long as two months and in some cases longer.
Since Proposition 115, however, voir dire was conducted by the judge and – as the proposition had contemplated – tended to go much more quickly. Attorneys could supply the judge with a list of questions they wanted to see asked, but often these were ignored. Likewise, in the case of Jennifer Witt, Freeman had asked Villars if he might ask direct questions of some of the jurors. The answer had been no.
Lawyers for the prosecution and the defense still had their twenty peremptory challenges – the right to dismiss a prospective juror for any reason whatsoever or no reason at all – but the empaneling of the jury was now much more outside the perceived control of either counsel. It was the judge's show.
Jurors were asked if they had read about the case in the newspapers, if they could sit through a three-month trial and, perhaps most importantly, if, in the appropriate case, they could vote for the death penalty. Out of the first eighty jurors, after perhaps three days of questioning, maybe four would be available for service and they would be told to come back at the end of September. They would be part of the pool from which the twelve jurors and six alternates would be chosen. Then Villars would send for eighty more.
Except for the half-moon reading glasses, Judge Villars was Hardy's notion of an elderly Joan of Arc. With her helmet of gray hair over a benign and handsome face, Villars might strike a casual passerby on the street as a grade-school principal, fair but firm, perhaps even with a rogue streak of humor.
But as Freeman had told Hardy when they had drawn her for this trial, looks could be deceiving. Villars was close to humorless, an authoritarian on the bench. Freeman did not think it was purely the luck of the draw – although it was supposed to be – that had brought this capital case to her courtroom. He fancied that he smelled the sulfurous machinations of Dean Powell behind the scenes.
Villars was also the least likely judge in Superior Court to be reversed on appeal. If Powell got a conviction in her courtroom, there was a likelihood that it would stick.
Hardy did not like something else – Judge Villars wasn't likely to overturn a jury's recommendation for the death penalty, if it came all the way to that. When they had drawn her, Hardy had tried to convince Freeman to challenge out of her department. Similar to their rights with jurors, attorneys for either side in California had one peremptory challenge of the judge assigned to any given case. The result in theory was to keep judges from getting too uppity, inserting too much of their personalities or beliefs into trials designed to be objective. If a judge made things too tough for the prosecution, for example, the DA's office could decide to challenge that person "out of the building," and a few judges over the years had found their careers ended when they had been too free with mandating from the bench some uniquely San Francisco notions of fair play.
Legally, in theory, judges had tremendous responsibility and leeway – even in a capital case, months of a prosecutor's hard work and a jury's long-contemplated decision could be overridden by any judge who decided – for almost any defensible reason – that justice was not being done. But it was also true that any judge who exercised that privilege too often might be off the bench.
Hardy had wanted to challenge Villars. In spite of her gender, she had acquired the reputation of being especially hard on women. Throughout her career she had, it seemed, leaned over backward to avoid giving the slightest appearance of favoritism to female attorneys, staff, defendants. A few years earlier she had been in the vanguard of a successful effort to dump the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court – a woman – because of her "soft stand" on the death penalty.
Villars was nobody's pussycat, all right, but Freeman had been adamant. He wanted her. He'd been delighted with the choice. He could win with her.
Why? Because Freeman believed that Villars was, in fact, absolutely impartial, and very few other judges were. It wasn't that Villars was so tough on women – it was that she treated them exactly like she treated men. And in San Francisco, filled with vocal minority groups of every stripe, Judge Villars played it by the book. She thought men and women were equal before the law in every way. That was how she treated people and it was how she judged them – men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, gays, everybody.
So Freeman was confident that, with Villars on the bench, he stood the best chance of winning the guilty-or-innocent phase and wasn't inclined to challenge. The down side, of course, was that, if Freeman lost, Villars would be a very unsympathetic choice for judge in the penalty phase.
For the eighth time in five weeks, eighty people filed into the courtroom. The clerk read off twelve names and those people came out of the gallery and filed into the jury box. All eighty swore to answer truthfully any question pertaining to their qualifications to serve as jurors.
Judge Villars began: Jennifer Lee Witt has been charged with three counts of murder in the first degree and special circumstances in an indictment returned by the grand jury for the State of California." She continued, asking the standard battery of initial questions: Did anyone on the panel know the defendant? The victim? How about the attorneys representing them? Had anyone been a victim of a violent crime? Did anyone have a policeman as a relative? A lawyer? A judge? Did anyone consider themselves familiar with the case from reports they'd seen on television or read in the newspapers? Had any of them been arrested? Hands went up in answer to each question, and the lawyers took notes.
And so it went, Jennifer leaning close to Freeman, occasionally turning to Hardy with a question or comment. They were making notes on their peremptory challenges, deciding who they would dismiss, although there wasn't much to go on.
Jury selection, even in the old days of voir dire, was, of course, no exact science. Now under the new rules it was close to a crap shoot. Did Juror Number 5 look like she was sympathetic to Jennifer? Would the young stud, Number 11, want to give Jennifer a break because she was so attractive, or would he identify with Larry Witt, a hard-working guy who got stuck with the wrong woman? How about the Plain Jane who was Number 9? Would she be jealous of Jennifer's looks, or would she perhaps see her as a misguided sister who had been maligned and unfairly accused?
None of the first twelve survived the initial questioning. Twelve more were called. By September 27 there were ninety-two people eligible to serve as jurors. All the others had been excused for "good cause," hardship or bias disclosed during the initial questioning. Only now did the lawyers use their peremptory challenges. Powell challenged eleven times. Freeman used all twenty of his. They picked six alternates.
The six weeks of jury selection had passed for Hardy in a kind of haze. San Francisco had its allotted two weeks of warmth in early September, and every workday Hardy, Freeman and Jennifer had sat at their table, Powell and his young assistant Morehouse over to their right, going over the same critical routine again and again.
It was grueling, detailed work that was emotionally and physically draining. Hardy was needed in court. Everything he might otherwise actively pursue – the "other dudes," for instance – had to get put on hold. Every night, after leaving the Hall of Justice, Hardy and Freeman would discuss prospective jurors and strategies until they began to babble, then they'd do it again the next day.
At home, Frannie held on. Her husband came home late, left early, was distracted when he was there. They went away on two of the weekends – once without the kids to a cabin in the pines around Lake Tahoe. They decided they would get through this and have a real life again someday.
Now it was Monday, October 4, the players were assembled, the gallery was full, and Dean Powell stood at last, ready to begin. Hardy thought that the contrast between him and David Freeman couldn't be greater. Powell radiated authority and personality. He wore a well-tailored dark suit with a blue tie – no need to emphasize the power with red or with pinstripes. His face, chiseled, strong and bronzed, wore an expression of amiable concern. Occasionally he would run his hand through the mane of white hair, the only combing it needed.
In the middle of the courtroom he turned to face the jury that had been empaneled over the past weeks. "Your Honor, Mr. Freeman, Mr. Hardy, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I want to thank you all for giving up your valuable time for this most important of civic duties. All of us here" – Powell included the defense table with a sweeping gesture – "are grateful."
Freeman and Hardy exchanged glances. They both knew the defense would be within their rights to object to this little massaging of the jury by the prosecuting attorney. Such a welcome was really the judge's prerogative, but many attorneys on both sides often tried to show what nice people they really were underneath the lawyer costume. Freeman wasn't about to object – the jury would find it mean-spirited.
Most judges let the welcome party go on a bit. Villars did not. Her gavel came down with a crack. "Mr. Powell, I've already welcomed the jury and thanked them for their time. This is your opening statement. Let's hear it."
Hardy kept a straight face. Freeman brought a hand up, perhaps to cover a smile.
Powell bowed slightly toward the bench. "Of course. Sorry, Your Honor."
He turned back to the jury. There were four men and eight women, five blacks, four whites, three female Hispanics. One retired doctor. Three housewives. Two unemployed. Four secretaries and an office manager. A parimutuel clerk. Perhaps two gay men. You could break it down any number of ways and it still came down to a guessing game. No one doubted that Villars had done a competent and quick job of it, and no one had much of a clue what any of these people were like except that they all professed to believe in the death penalty if warranted.
Powell smiled the low-wattage version. "Judge Villars has asked me to proceed with my opening statement, and that's what I'm going to do." He nodded, making a little eye contact here and there. "What is an opening statement? Well, it's really quite simple. I'm going to talk a little about the defendant in this case, Jennifer Lee Witt, and the three people she killed – two husbands and"… here Powell stopped for effect… "and her young son."
Another pause. "The roots of this case go back a long way, all the way to 1984. The People of the State of California believe and will prove to you, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Jennifer Witt, on or about the 17^th of September of that year, injected her husband at the time, Edward Teller Hollis, with a lethal dose of atropine, which is a derivative of jimson weed, more commonly known as deadly nightshade."
Powell wasn't using theatrics, wasn't playing the personality game he did so well. Perhaps he had taken the early cue from Villars, but his version of events was beginning to come out free of gimmickry, straightforward and plausible.
"At the time of the death of Mr. Hollis, and while she was married to him, we will prove to you that Jennifer Witt was romantically involved with another man, a dentist, Dr. Harlan Poole. Atropine is a common medication, available in most dentists' offices and specifically available nine years ago in Dr. Poole's office. It is used to inhibit the flow of saliva."
As though stricken with dry mouth himself, Powell went to the prosecution table and drank from a glass of water. Hardy found himself getting thirsty. Freeman drank. Even Villars took a discreet sip on the bench.
Powell came back to the center of the room. "Why did Jennifer Witt kill her first husband? The prosecution will introduce to you exhibits that prove the existence of a life-insurance policy in the amount of seventy-five thousand dollars, payable to Jennifer Witt in the event of her husband's death. Within four months of the death of Mr. Hollis, Jennifer received that payment in full. Seventy-five thousand dollars was a lot of money in 1984."
"Objection, Your Honor." Freeman half-stood. He had to say something to break up Powell's rhythm, even though this was the most innocuous of his statements. But while it could be debated whether $75,000 was a lot of money in 1984, it couldn't be that the opinion was evidence. It wasn't.
Villars sustained Freeman but gave him a look. Opening statements could not argue the law and they could not editorialize, but a wide latitude was often given, and Villars was telling Freeman that if he was going to object to Powell's peccadilloes in these areas, she would sustain Powell if he tried to do the same to him. The interplay of the trial was beginning.
If Freeman's intent was to bump Powell's rhythm, he failed. The prosecutor was sailing and this objection was nothing to him. As soon as Villars said "sustained," he plunged ahead. "As all of you ladies and gentlemen of the jury are aware, this is a capital case, alleging special circumstances. And one of the special circumstances is that this killing of Edward Teller Hollis was a cold-blooded murder of a human being for monetary gain. It does not matter that this act occurred some years ago. There is no statute of limitations on murder."
Jennifer, sitting between Hardy and Freeman, sat ramrod stiff on the front half of her seat. Everything about her seemed in tight control, except her nostrils tended to flare with her breathing.
Powell looked directly at her and paused in his statement. Was it a challenge to him, her cold gaze of dismissal? He allowed himself a nod, almost friendly, and next to Hardy, Jennifer shifted.
"A year after her first husband's death, that is, in 1985, Jennifer married Larry Witt, who had left the woman who had put him through medical school…"
Freeman stood again, objecting. Again he was sustained, this time more forcefully. This was the beginning of what would possibly be many attempts at simple character assassination and Villars was giving Powell warning that she wasn't having it. It wasn't evidence. Don't try to introduce it.
It was a small good sign and Hardy made a note on his pad. Had the silent exchange between Jennifer and Powell lured him away from his game plan, or had it been an unintentional gaffe?
But the prosecutor had a lot more to get out and he had everybody listening. "In 1985 Jennifer married Larry Witt, who was just setting up a medical practice. They had a son, Matthew, the following year. As Dr. Witt's practice grew, they bought increasingly larger amounts of life insurance until, at the time of his death on December 28 of last year, Larry Witt was insured for two-and-a-half-million dollars."
This was the time for a pregnant pause, and Powell took it. A susurrous breath went through the courtroom.
"Two-and-a-half-million dollars, ladies and gentlemen. We will show you this policy as one of the People's exhibits, and you will see that it contains a clause providing for double indemnity should Larry Witt die a violent death. As he did. That brings the amount of the payment on his death to five-million dollars. And I needn't tell you that that's a lot of money in any year."
Powell glanced with a smile at Freeman, making nice-guy points with the jury. Freeman, who didn't do suave as a rule, gave his impression of a smile back. Villars picked up her gavel but reconsidered and put it back down.
"Of course, the presence of an insurance policy is no proof of murder. Let's be clear on this. We will show you – and prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt – that the actions of Jennifer Witt on the morning of Monday, December 28, will allow for no other explanation than that she shot her husband and son with her own handgun, then left her house in an effort to provide herself with an alibi for the time in question."
"Fortunately for the People of the State of California, we have two witnesses who will testify regarding this alibi. Between them, they will remove any doubt about Jennifer being in her home when the shots were fired. She was there, she had the gun, and she used it to kill her husband for his insurance."
"And finally, most tragically, we have young Matthew Witt."
Next to Hardy, Jennifer slumped slightly. The anger either had passed or given way to something more powerful. For the first time, she hung her head. Freeman looked over and put his hand over her lower arm. She looked back up.
"Frankly, we cannot tell you why Matthew Witt had to die on that Monday morning. But die he did, shot with the same gun as the one that had killed his father. We will even concede that it might have been a mistake – the boy could have accidentally come into the line of fire. He could have startled Jennifer-"
"Your Honor, please. These conjectures have no place in an opening statement."
Powell preempted the judge, apologizing. Freeman was right, he was sorry. And the facts will show that Jennifer Witt killed her husband for five-million dollars – motive. The murder weapon was her own gun, which she and her husband kept in the bedroom of her house – means. She was alone in the house with her husband and son when she turned the gun on them – opportunity. We will prove these beyond a reasonable doubt, and in so doing, will recommend that a person capable of these crimes has forfeited her right to live in our society. Such a person – male or female – should be given the ultimate penalty. Such a person should be condemned to death. Thank you.
In California, the defense has the option of delivering its own opening statement immediately after the prosecutions, somewhat as a rebuttal, or of waiting until the prosecution rests its case. Freeman had done it both ways in various trials in his career, and this time he was choosing the latter. He wasn't sure how things were going to break as the evidence accumulated, and he thought he would make more of an impression introducing things – if indicated – later on. He did not want to tip his hand.
The drawback to this way of proceeding was that it did seem, at the outset, to give the prosecution a lot of time in possession. Powell had barely sat down when Freeman announced he would be waiting – giving his opening statement at the beginning of the defense's case.
The prosecutor was quickly back up, calling Inspector Sergeant Walter Terrell as his first witness.
Freeman and Hardy had speculated on the order of witnesses, and neither of them had picked Terrell as leadoff. Looking younger than usual in slacks and an aviator jacket, Terrell aggressively pushed his way through the railing separating the gallery from the courtroom. Taking the oath, his eyes were everywhere.
"Why is he so nervous?" Jennifer asked.
"First murder trial." Freeman did not take his eyes off the inspector. "Mistake," he whispered half to himself.
"For us?" Jennifer turned to Hardy, who shook his head no. At least, he didn’t think so. Freeman didn't answer, and Powell was moving forward, talking to the judge.
"Your Honor, for the record, we are going to be conducting this trial by first concentrating on the murder of Edward Teller Hollis. We will be calling witnesses again to testify when we get to the Larry and Matthew Witt phase of the trial, and Officer Terrell will be one such witness. I just wanted to make that clear."
Since this had been covered in pre-trial conferences with Villars, there was no objection from Freeman.
Powell turned to Terrell. "Officer Terrell, could you please tell the jury how you came to be involved in the investigation of the murder of Edward Hollis?"
Terrell nodded, swallowing, trying to smile. "That's Ned, is that right? The first husband?"
There was a brief chorus of nervous laughter, some even from the jury box. Terrell reacted to it, offended. He didn’t mean to make anyone laugh. Powell remained calm. "If it please the court, we'll refer to Edward Teller Hollis as Ned Hollis." Back to Terrell, he repeated his question.
"I am an inspector with the homicide department. Last December I was the investigating officer in the homicide of Larry and Matthew Witt. In the course of doing background on the suspect, the defendant, Mrs. Witt, I asked about her first husband. She told me he had died of a drug overdose and that she'd collected on an insurance policy. I thought that was a coincidence worth looking into."
All this was true, and Hardy realized that calling Terrell maybe wasn't such a mistake at all. Terrell's testimony would establish the similarities between the alleged motives behind the two homicides, and would do it before introducing any of the evidence that linked the murders to Jennifer. Actually it seemed a pretty slick opening and Hardy wondered what Freeman was going to do about it. Come right at it and try to knock it down, was the only answer.
In the courtroom, Freeman's voice took on a more sonorous tone, which couldn't be anything but purposeful. Everything Freeman did on this stage was, if possible, rehearsed, although nothing appeared to be. Freeman's voice in other situations tended to the gruff – with a coarse edge, low and guttural. Here, rising, the personification of gentle reason, there was authority, but the tone was that of a kindly grandfather.
Villars waited while Freeman got all the way up. It took longer than it had to, but the trial had just begun and the judge could be expected to incline toward patience.
"Your Honor," he repeated, "it's a little early for coincidences. No evidentiary link has been established."
As Hardy knew, motives were Terrell's weakness. The young inspector, red-faced now, veins visible on his neck, half-stood, leaning forward in the witness box. "The man was killed and she collected the insurance, what do you want?"
Bam bam bam.
Villars eyes were on fire, although she controlled her voice. "Inspector Terrell, that's enough. Mr. Freeman is addressing the court, not you. Is that clear?"
Terrell got himself back down. He straightened his jacket, still angry.
"I asked you a question, Inspector. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Your Honor. Sorry."
Villars nodded once, apparently holding no grudge, satisfied. Even the glaring eye was gone. Nothing personal but make no mistake – there was going to be order in her court.
For two seconds Villars looked at the ceiling, then back down to Freeman. "The objection is sustained. Mr. Powell, you'll have to be a little more specific." She turned to the jury box, from firebrand to functionary in a few seconds. "Ladies and gentlemen, please disregard the inspector's comments about coincidence. It's up to you to make the connections between facts, remember that." Back to the prosecutor. "Mr. Powell?"
Powell, who had had the control of the courtroom taken from him in less than the time it took to tie his shoes, was suddenly hyper-aware. His first witness was now a demonstrable hothead with a fraction of his original credibility and they had a long way to go. He smiled his unruffled smile.
"Officer Terrell, let's take a new line, shall we?"
He walked Terrell – carefully, a step at a time – through the interview with Jennifer, leaving out reference to the reasons they had finally gone back and exhumed. The jury, as Villars had said, would have to make that leap. The fact was that they had exhumed, and that they had found a concentration of atropine in the left thigh. Powell did not go near any question of how it might have gotten there.
Ned did have an insurance policy for seventy-five-thousand dollars. Jennifer had provided a copy of the policy and the check from her tax records. Here it is, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, People's Exhibit 1. Jennifer was the beneficiary. Here's her canceled check, People's 2. That's all for the prosecution, Inspector Terrell, thanks very much. Here comes your cross-examination.
Hardy was sure he wasn't alone in the impression that Terrell had gone up there intending to say a lot more, stay a while longer, make more of a splash.
He was still, obviously, pumped up both from nerves and adrenalin. Freeman was playing that against him, shuffling some papers, fumbling up out of his chair, straightening his wrinkled tie. It wasn't quite slow enough to prompt Villars into moving him along, but it clearly was playing all hell with Terrell.
Finally, finally, Freeman got to the center of the courtroom. "Good morning," he said genially, and waited some more. The gambit threw Terrell further off-stride, until at last he nodded and mumbled something like a greeting back.
"Now, Inspector Terrell, you have testified that Ned Hollis had a seventy-five-thousand dollar insurance policy and that Jennifer Witt was the beneficiary. That's correct, isn't it?"
The witness looked up at the judge for an instant, then to Powell, finally back to Freeman. "That's right."
"What did Mrs. Witt tell you would happen if she died instead of Ned, then what?"
Another pause, thinking about it. "Then Ned would have gotten the money."
"In other words, it was a joint policy – a husband and wife, if-one-of-us-dies-the-house-is-paid-for kind of policy."
"Yes, that's right."
"And, in fact, did Jennifer tell you that she and Ned owned a house together at this time?"
"Yes, they did."
"And you checked it out, and that was the truth, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was."
"In your investigation, did you come upon any records on the value of that house?"
Terrell cast a what's-all-this-about look at Powell. Freeman knew that if Powell objected to hearsay – what someone had told Terrell out of court – that the objection would be sustained. But Freeman could prove the value of the house anyway, with other records and witnesses if he had to. And the jury would remember that the prosecutor had tried to keep it from them.
Powell said nothing. Terrell answered that yes, Jennifer and Ned had bought a shoebox down near Daly City, putting down twenty-thousand dollars.
"So their loan was eighty thousand dollars?"
"I don't know. I'd assume so."
"You know they put down twenty thousand dollars, but you don't know what their loan was?"
Powell stood up, trying to save Terrell, at least for later. "Your Honor. Relevance?"
Villars was curt. "I think so. Go on, Mr. Freeman. Inspector?"
"Their loan was around eighty thousand dollars, yes."
Freeman did a little awkward half-turn, almost a pirouette toward the jury. "And, again in your investigations, did you discover whatever became of that loan?"
Terrell pulled at his suddenly tight collar. "I believe Mrs. Witt paid it off."
"With the insurance money?"
"Yes. I believe so."
"You believe so or you know so, Inspector?"
"I know so. She paid off the loan."
"Indeed she did." Freeman went back to his table and took out a fat photocopied document. He had it marked as Defense Exhibit 1 and passed up to Terrell. "You've seen this before?" As Terrell was looking at it Freeman turned to the jury. "In other words, Inspector Terrell, from this document you knew that Jennifer Witt did not take a year-long vacation to Las Vegas, for example."
Powell was on his feet. "Objection."
"I'll withdraw the comment, Your Honor." Freeman had made his point – if Jennifer had killed Ned to take some money and live the high life, she might have been expected to have kept at least some of it to party with. "There's just one other thing I'd like to ask you about, Inspector. You said Jennifer – Mrs. Witt – told you that Ned Hollis used drugs."
"She said he experimented with drugs, isn't that right?"
"You interviewed people who corroborated that?"
Powell got up again. "Your Honor. Hearsay. Mr. Freeman is badgering the witness."
"Not quite, but I take your point."
Freeman waited, silent.
"I was waiting for your ruling, Your Honor."
Villars was not amused. She had the reporter read back the previous dialogue, then said that, for the record, the objection is sustained.
Freeman nodded, then continued with Terrell. "How many of Mr. Hollis' friends did you interview?"
"All that I could find."
"And every single one of them confirmed hat Ned experimented with drugs, isn't that true?"
Freeman: "Did any of them deny that Ned experimented with drugs?"
The old defense attorney stood for a beat. Then: "During your exhaustive investigation into the death of Ned Hollis, did anyone ever describe Mr. Hollis' drug use as other than experimental?"
Like a weary jack-in-the-box, Powell again rose. "Objection, Hearsay."
Villars had had enough. "Mr. Freeman, no matter how many different ways you ask the question, I'm going to sustain this objection every time. Please move on."
Freeman was contrite. "I apologize, Your Honor." Back to Terrell with a kindly smile. "I have no further questions."
"They're shooting themselves in the foot on Ned. You notice Powell said little about it in his opening, especially, didn't even put Jennifer in the county when he died, much less the room."
Freeman chewed on his sandwich – a thick fistful of dry Italian salami on a sourdough roll. "Villars should have bought my 995." This was the motion he had filed before the trial, asserting that there was not sufficient evidence in the Ned situation to convict, which Villars had denied. "Unless they've got some big surprise, this one can't fly."
It was the lunch recess. They had cabbed up to the office on Sutter and were sitting on benches in the small brick-and-glass enclosed garden just outside the conference room. Above them, in the aperture formed by the surrounding buildings, the sky burned a deep blue. Indian summer, San Francisco's finest season.
Hardy picked at the bread of his sandwich, threw it in the direction of some sparrows foraging in the low shrubbery.
"You with us?" Freeman asked.
"Sure." Hardy flicked another crumb. "Just thinking."
"About the case?"
"You don't have to tell me, but are things all right with you? You doing okay? Getting enough sleep? The first days of these trials can be tough."
Leaning forward, Hardy let out a long breath. "I don't know what's going on at home, David. It feels like I'm losing my wife."
"I don't know. Maybe not."
"But maybe so?"
Hardy stood up, crossed the small opening, stared at blank brick. Without turning around he said, "Something's happened the last couple of months. I don't think it's the trial, all this preparation. I don't know what it is, but it scares me to death."
"You ask her?"
"Couple of hundred times, one way or the other."
Hardy shrugged, finally turned. "Not much. Not enough. We've got this tradition where we go out on Wednesday nights. Date night. Or we had it 'til a month ago."
The birds were chirping over the crumbs and Freeman broke off a bit of his bread and tossed it across the patio. "Something happen a month ago?"
"I wish it had. I came home one night, thinking we were going out, and she's in a nightgown reading. She tells me I ought to go out by myself, shoot some darts. She's just tired."
"Maybe she was tired?"
"Time was she'd be tired on a Wednesday night, we'd grab a blanket, go out to the beach, take a nap. This date night idea was something we'd decided to do, tired or not, kids or not. The marriage needed it. We need it for ourselves."
Freeman contemplated his sandwich. "How old are your kids?"
"Two and almost one, but it's not that." At the skeptical look, Hardy said, "I don't think it's that. You think it is?"
"I barely know Frannie, Diz. But she wouldn't be the first woman to decide her kids needed her more than her husband. Priorities change."
"Well, they haven't changed with me."
Freeman allowed himself a smile. "Life's unfair, like JFK said. If only we could find somebody to sue." He shifted on the bench, popped the last of his sandwich. "Does she think you need her?"
"Come on, David. Need? Who knows need? I love her and I think she knows that."
"I don't mean to sound presumptuous, but your kids know need. Frannie knows need."
"Well, hell, I need her, too. I mean, we're adults, though. We've both got things we've got to do. I've got this trial. She's got the kids. What are we supposed to do? That's what date night was supposed to be for – to keep us connected."
"It doesn't sound like you're too connected. You just said it – you've got this trial, she's got the kids."
Hands in his pockets, Hardy found himself pacing. Arguing with David Freeman, proving his point that Frannie – perhaps – shouldn't feel what she was feeling, whatever it was, didn't alter the fact that something pretty fundamental seemed to have changed between them, some balance had shifted.
Maybe what Freeman had implied was true – that she didn't feel as though he needed her so much anymore. He had to admit he wasn't giving her much sign of it – leaving for work early, getting home late, drafting motions, doing research, following up his investigations, reviewing files on weekends.
As far as that went, he didn’t feel like she was needing him much either. She was doing her jobs, caring for the children, taking care of the home. They were, he believed, committed to each other, and that had to be one of the main ingredients of what they both called adult love.
"I'd surprise her." Freeman had come up next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Break up the routine. Maybe she's just burned out. Maybe she sees you're not there for her and she's afraid you won't be and she's pulling away."
"But I am there. This trial's just starting. What does she expect?"
"Maybe the question is what does she need?" Freeman patted his shoulder, opening the glass door back into the conference room. "Let's get back to court. Her Honor frowns on tardiness."
John Strout, the coroner for the City and County of San Francisco, was already a familiar figure to Hardy and every other professional in the courtroom. An authority with a national reputation, the drawling, well-respected medical examiner had appeared at almost every trial, grand jury and preliminary hearing that involved a murder in San Francisco – perhaps once a week for the past thirteen years – and now he sat his lanky frame down in the witness box, comfortable and relaxed.
Powell, showing no sign of post-lunch slump, combed his white mane with his fingers and greeted Strout genially, old friends, for the jury's benefit. Then he got right to it, preempting what Hardy thought would be Freeman's tack on cross.
"Dr. Strout, did you do the initial autopsy on Ned Hollis back in 1984?"
"Yes, I did."
"And what were your findings at that time?"
Strout backed his chair up in the witness box and crossed his legs, his broad and open face creased in a smile. "We ran an A scan and returned with a finding of accidental death due to an overdose of cocaine mixed with alcohol."
"An A scan? Would you explain to the jury what that is?"
Strout leaned forward and gave a two-minute explanation – most poisons and/or volatile compounds were found in the A scan, and it was cheapest and quickest. If a cause-of-death could be found at the A level – without a police report indicating a suspicion of foul play – the scanning tended to stop there.
"And the A scan did find traces of cocaine and alcohol in Mr. Hollis' system, is that it?"
Strout frowned. Making it simple for the jury wasn't his job. He was already on the record as having missed the true cause of death in this case, and he wanted to keep it precise. "There was a potentially lethal level of coca-ethylene, which gets a little technical, but basically it is the by-product when cocaine and alcohol mix in the blood."
"And when you determined the presence of this coca-ethylene, you stopped the autopsy?"
"Well, no. But we stopped looking so hard for a cause-of-death. A man's got a knife sticking out of his head, we don't necessarily go looking for a coincidental heart attack." A brush of low laughter. "But we didn’t complete the autopsy with that finding. In fact, the lab tests and the physical examination are related but separate procedures."
Strout explained about blood samples being sent off to the lab while the autopsy proper concerned itself with the body and its organs. "When we get back the lab results, we check to see if anything we've discovered in the physical examination might throw some new light on the lab's finding or vice-versa."
"And in this case?"
"Well, we found the coca-ethylene. There weren't any appreciable amounts or physical indications of the presence of barbiturates or alkaloids. So we had a probable cause of death at the A level and stopped there."
Powell nodded to Strout, then turned first to the jury, then back to the defense table, making eye contact with Jennifer again. Hardy glanced at her out of the side of his eye. Was she smiling at her prosecutor? He touched her arm, and she stiffened, her face now a mask.
The direct examination continued without any surprises. Both prosecution and defense counsel might have stipulated to all of this forensic detail – the facts were largely undisputed – but neither Powell or Freeman had shown any inclination to do so. They had their reasons. Powell wanted to make the long-ago death of Jennifer's first husband real to the jury. He might have been dead a long time now, but when he died he'd been a healthy twenty-six-year-old man. Powell wanted the jury to know that, to get a sense of a young life snuffed out, to watch his accused killer react to it all. When he'd finished outlining the C scan and discovery of the concentration of atropine in Ned's left thigh, Powell led Strout into an area that did not strictly concern his findings in the lab or at autopsy.
"Now, Dr. Strout, atropine is a prescription drug, is it not? It's not available over the counter?"
"And what is it's principle use?"
"It's used in anesthesia and to inhibit the flow of saliva." Strout was good at including everybody. He smiled all around, smooth and comfortable.
"Were you surprised when you found it in the scan you've described?"
"Objection." Freeman was up like a shot, and almost as quickly, without discussion, Villars sustained him. Powell remained impassive.
"Dr. Strout, to your knowledge, does atropine get much use as a recreational drug?"
Hardy could see Freeman getting poised to object again, but he sat back, seemingly content to let Powell continue with this line of questioning.
"If it is, it's not a common one."
"It doesn't produce a so-called high, or anything like that?"
Again, Hardy glanced over at Freeman, Powell was leading the witness all over the place, and Freeman was sitting back in his chair, lips pursed, listening.
"So if a person were an habitual drug user, and looking to get high, he or she would not-"
Here, finally, Freeman raised a hand, keeping his voice low. "Your Honor? Speculation."
Again he was sustained. Powell smiled, palms out, apologized in his gentlemanly way and nodded to both the judge and the doctor. "That's all, then. Thank you, Dr. Strout. Your witness, Mr. Freeman."
The rumpled defense attorney, no less genial than Powell had been, although – Hardy thought – more believable in this guise, walked to where Powell had been standing, then moved three steps closer to the witness box, lifting one hand in a casual unspoken greeting to Strout, telling the jury by gesture that he and Strout, too, were professional colleagues. Just because he was with the defense, it didn’t mean he was with the bad guys, or was one of them.
"This exhumation business… I don't suppose it's much fun, is it, Doctor?"
Strout was still relaxed. There had been trials where he had testified for the better part of a week. He looked on his witness time as a break from his work in the morgue. He spread his hands. "It's part of the job. Sometimes it gets pretty interesting."
"Was this, the Ned Hollis exhumation, one of the particularly interesting ones?"
Strout thought for a moment, then added, "I'd have to say it was."
"And can you tell the jury why that was?"
Strout liked this, the opportunity to sit back and chat. "Well, in any autopsy the search for a cause of death is a bit of a puzzle. As I've explained earlier, we run laboratory scans for various substances and examine the body, hoping we can point at something when we're finished. In a case where someone has died a long time ago, the puzzle can get complicated. I guess that's what I mean by interesting."
Freeman, apparently fascinated, had now wandered closer to the jury box. "What kind of complications, Doctor?"
"Well, the body decays, for one. Certain substances break down – chemically, I mean – or turn into something else, or disappear entirely. Evaporate. Over time, of course, eventually you can lose almost everything."
"And had that happened with Mr. Hollis?"
"Well, to some degree, yes."
"And yet this was a particularly interesting… puzzle, I believe you called it."
The medical examiner nodded. "That's because we believed we had another poison and we had to find it – not just the substance itself, but how had gotten into the body." Strout, the ideal witness, was forward in his chair again, addressing the jury directly. "During the first autopsy," he explained, "we had, of course, examined stomach contents and so on, but now we were looking to see if we missed anything the first time, so we tried again. But there wasn't much there. Although the scan found the initial trace of atropine, we couldn't get any concentration approaching a lethal dose."
"And your next step?"
Hardy glanced at the jury. This was gruesome stuff, no one was sleeping. Strout continued, showing enthusiasm for his work. "Now here's where the puzzle gets interesting. If there's been a recent death, you might find some needle marks, bruises and so on, but here we took samples from various locations, hoping to find a concentration, and we got lucky."
"How was that?"
Strout got technical on some muscle names and so on, but Freeman brought him back, making it clear that the injection had gone in two-thirds up the front of the left thigh.
"You're sure it was the front of the thigh? It could not have seeped through, so to speak, from the back?"
Strout was certain. "There's no chance of that. The muscles aren't connected." More medical detail, but gradually the picture came out – the lethal injection had been administered to the upper thigh.
To Hardy, it seemed like a long journey to get to something they already knew. Until Freeman asked, "This location on the thigh, could someone self-administer an injection there?"
Unflappable and friendly, Strout said of course.
"Was there anything about your examination that indicated that the injection had not been self-administered?"
"I don't know. Maybe a scratch where he might have tried to fight off the injection. Anything at all?"
Strout thought. "After all this time, no, nothing."
Freeman went back to the exhibit table and lifted People's Exhibit 5, the original autopsy report. "Did you notice anything nine years ago, Doctor, that would have argued against Mr. Hollis giving himself the shot?"
Perusing the page, Strout handed it back. "No. But, of course, there were tracks – needle marks."
"There were needle marks? And where were these, Doctor?"
"On his inner arms."
"Consistent with where a drug user might inject himself?"
"Did you notice any needle marks on his thighs?"
Again, Strout glanced down at People's Exhibit 5, his early autopsy diagram. "No, not that I noted here."
Across the room, Hardy saw Powell sitting, his hands folded in front of him, his head down. He was getting killed and he knew it. Freeman, with half a losing point – the needle marks on the thigh – wasn't even ready to concede that. He'd come back nearly to the edge of the witness box during the rapid-fire questions, and now he moved back to the center of the room. "But it's possible, is it not, Doctor, that you might have missed even a recent needle mark?"
Nodding amiably, the doctor, relentlessly honest, went him one better. "Not only could I, Mr. Freeman, it seems likely I did. The injection went in his thigh. It's the only way the atropine could have concentrated itself there. Needle marks are notoriously difficult to locate and catalogue. Autopsies miss them." Strout spread his hands one last time. "It happens," he said.
Dropped off on the seventh floor by the bailiff, then escorted by her two female guards, Jennifer Witt undressed in the open room, hanging her good clothes carefully on the wooden hangers, watching as the guards made space for them in the changing locker. She turned and faced the wall as she removed the feminine underthings that Freeman had bought for her. She slipped a runner's bra over her head, turned back around, took the proferred plastic bag from Milner – a sweet-faced, overweight redhead with a gappy smile and freckles – and dropped the articles, one at a time, into the bag.
The other guard, Montanez, sullenly held out the red jumpsuit. From out in the pods, through the building, they heard the sound of bars clanging, strident voices rising and fading. It was near to dinnertime, getting darker a little earlier, a few weeks before the end of Daylight Savings Time.
"How's it going down there?" Milner asked.
Jennifer shrugged. "Bunch of men talking a lot."
"Ain't it, though?" Montanez started moving them together toward the door to the changing room.
"The judge is a woman, though. Her name is Villars. There are a few on the jury, too."
But these considerations didn't much concern either Milner or Montanez. The two guards flanked her in the dim and ringing hallway, their belts and hardware creaking as they walked. From behind them, the lockup guard called out, "Is that Witt? She's got a visitor."
Dr. Ken Lightner had been in the courtroom for at least some period of time during each of the four days of the trial so far. Not being a lawyer, he had not been allowed into the tiny room next to the guard's station but, like Frannie, had to content himself with the more public arrangement – hard wooden chairs and telephone lines on either side of the Plexiglas.
He was already sitting there, waiting. His head was cradled wearily against the heel of his hand. When Jennifer sat down he stared at her for a long minute. Finally he reached for the telephone. "How are you holding up?"
"Nobody's hitting me anymore. Maybe they think I'm going to win." She allowed her face to crack into a brittle smile. "I'm starting to have a little faith in Mr. Freeman."
Lightner nodded. "What does he say?"
"He won't every commit to anything. He says it's a long haul. But I hear him talking to Mr. Hardy, I see the response he's getting from the jury. He seems confident."
"And how about you?"
"I miss you, Ken. I miss talking to you. Everything. The people here…" There was nothing to say about them. They lived on a different plane. She stopped herself, swallowed. "It's so different. I don't know…"
The phone nearly fell from her hand.
She swallowed again, giving the impression of pulling back, even through the Plexiglas. "About going on."
"What about going on, Jen? You've got to go on."
Shaking her head, she became silent.
Lightner leaned forward, his face an inch from the glass. "Jennifer, listen to me. You've got to go on. You can't give up now. You're winning now, the worst may well be over."
"No, the worst isn't over. Mr. Freeman says the worst hasn't started yet…"
"He's a big help."
"He's trying. He is, Ken. I'm at least sure of that. It's not even the trial, you know, not mostly. It's everything else being so different. All these people here" – she gestured around her – "this whole place. I think sometimes I'll never get back to anything I recognize, anything I want." A tear broke from her eye and rolled down her cheek. This time she didn't wipe it away. It didn't matter if she looked weak, if she broke down in front of Ken, that's what he was for. And she was weak – they'd proved that. She didn't care about the old things anymore. "I'm so confused, Ken, I'm so confused…"
Lightner watched her, waiting for something, he couldn't say exactly what. Jennifer seemed inside herself, suffering, and he wanted to get her past this, but he didn't want to push. You let people find their own way out if they could.
"I'm still here," he said finally.
She allowed that brittle smile again. "I sometimes think you're the only reason I'm alive." A half-sob, half-laugh. "It's funny, you know. Remember when I thought if we could just get away from Larry, everything would work, everything would be better? It'd be a whole new world."
"I remember. It could still be there, Jen. We've talked about this over and over, working through the changes."
She shook herself, almost began rocking. Her head moved back and forth, a heavy weight held by a thread. "But that's just it, that's the problem. I don't believe it anymore. I don't know if I believe it anymore. The thing with Matt…" The flow of words stopped, her eyes suddenly dead, without any energy. "It would be better if it were just all over with. That'd be the end of it."
Maybe it was a test. Jennifer searched through the glass for something in his eyes, some answer. She scratched at the counter in front of her, reached her hand toward the Plexiglas, then withdrew it. "It's not going to get better, no matter what happens. I'm just the kind of person that everything beats up on… men, things, situations. I'm a loser, that's all."
Lightner was sitting forward now, his hand pushing against the glass. "You're not a loser, Jen. You've been victimized. We've talked about this. It's natural to feel the way you do, with what you've been through. But you're not a loser. I wouldn't stick with you if you were a loser, if I thought there wasn't some end to this, some time when things are going to be better."
"Tell me when."
"Come on, Jen. No one knows that, exactly. But-"
"I think you'd stick with me anyway, Ken, even though I am a loser. And you know why. I've figured this out. Because I'm a challenge to you, some classic case study."
"Jesus, Jennifer, how can you say that after all-"
"Because it's true, isn't it? You don't really care, do you? I mean about me. Who could ever love somebody as messed up as I am? As soon as I do get turned around, the minute it happens, if it ever does, the challenge or puzzle or whatever I am would be over. You'd be gone, too, wouldn't you? And then where would I be? I'll tell you where – where I am now, which is nowhere. Nowhere, nothing, never coming back, oh, goddamn it all…"
She threw the phone down, pushing the chair backward, knocking it over, standing, looking around, tears falling freely now. The guard was moving up, hand on her stick.
Lightner stood, his own hand on the Plexiglas, watching. Jennifer said something to the guard, slumping. She didn't turn back to look. They moved toward the door back to the cells, and Lightner sat again in the hard chair, trying to control his own feelings.
Suddenly she was back at the glass, hands splayed against it. Crying for real now, her body half-falling, half-leaning, her weight against the partition. Shaking her head, her face set, reaching for her stick as if she might really need it, the guard was coming up behind Jennifer – who was forcing words out between the sobs.
Even if he couldn't hear clearly he knew what she was saying. It was what she always said when she hit her own bedrock, when she felt it was all on her and she had to accept it.
"I'm sorry," she was crying, over and over, trying to reach him through the glass as though he were in another dimension. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, don't be mad at me…"
And then the guard's hand was on her shoulder, pulling her backward, turning her around and back to the door.
Lightner stood there breathing deeply and thinking that Jennifer might be right. She might be hopeless, an incurable loser.
And after all he'd done for her. It hit him like an electric shock, forcing him back down into the chair – the realization that she might never, ever get herself straight. He realized he was shaking, trying to get it under control, but what he wanted was to wake her up, knock some sense into that confused, lovely head of hers.
Frannie could not believe that Hardy had made all these arrangemenets – calling Erin, Rebecca's grandmother, to see if she would mind taking the kids overnight, sending a cab to pick everybody up and drop them where they should be, making reservations at this luxurious Bed amp; breakfast.
Hardy was modest. "I'm a virtual treasure trove of surprises."
"What made you think of this? What about the trial?"
Hardy sat on a red crushed velvet settee drinking an old tawny port from a cut-crystal wine glass. "I figured we owed ourselves about four date nights, call it twelve hours minimum. The trial can live without me a day – this is primarily Freeman's phase, anyway, remember."
Frannie stood at the window, arms crossed, her hair up, taking in the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the back window of the California House, an old Victorian on Upper Divisadero Street that had been refurbished and reincarnated as a Bed amp; Breakfast. They were in the Gold Rush suite, complete with stocked bookshelves, jacuzzi, fireplace, port and sherry with crystal service and, of course, The View, which added eighty dollars to the room charge.
He had made the reservation from the Hall of Justice as soon as they had recessed for the day. Erin had told him it would be no problem to come by, get the kids, feed them their dinner. Hardy had the feeling that if Erin simply showed up with a plan there'd be less chance that Frannie would demur. A cab came to their house and picked her up at 6:15. And now here they were.
Hardy still wasn't sure Frannie was altogether thrilled with the surprise. Her arms stayed crossed. Her face was set. He didn't think it was anger – in spite of the distance she hadn't been acting as though she were mad at him. Her jaw was tight, her eyes alert and thoughtful, inward looking – as though she were bearing up under some physical pain she didn't want to burden him with.
His fear was that the pain was the result of some change, that she'd realized that she didn't want him and their life together anymore. Her eyes came to him from across some chasm. A half-smile. "Hi."
He realized he'd been holding his breath, watching her, literally afraid to breathe. If he didn't breathe, maybe the moment would stop and he wouldn't have to find out what the next one held. He put his port on the end table and let out his breath in a rush. "So how's life, Frannie?"
"How do you think?"
"I think not good. I've had a stomache ache for a month. Since you stopped smiling. I thought maybe you'd like to talk about it."
She turned back to The View, her face in profile to him. He saw the muscle working in her jaw. He wanted to get up, go to her, but something – perhaps the knowledge that if she pushed him away now, didn't let him gather her in and hold her, then they might not get it back, not ever – something rooted him to the chair.
The words came out mumbled and he told her he hadn't heard what she'd said. They took a minute to come again.
She turned to face him directly and met his eyes. "Secrets."
He digested the word, and as the most obvious interpretation hit him, his stomach churned. He felt his head go light, as though he were going to faint. "What secrets?" It was the only thing he could think of to say.
She stood in the same posture, facing him straight on, arms crossed. "Secrets are what you don't tell."
Hardy leaned forward in his chair. He lifted the glass of port next to him and took a drink, then put it back down. "Okay," he said.
"It's not just that," she said.
"I don’t even know what that is."
"That's right. You don't."
Hardy brought his hand up to his forehead, squeezed at his temples. "Okay, Fran, but I've go to know." His palms found their way together. Praying. "Is it another man? Can you tell me that?"
He saw her shoulders settle, her eyes close. All her body language said that some crisis had just passed. Her arms uncrossed, untangled, came to her sides. She moved toward him, kneeled in front of him.
"What are you talking about, another man? There's no other man. There couldn't be another man." She had her hands on his face, her eyes into his, searching, outlining his features with her fingertips, her arms then around his neck, pulling him to her, against her. He felt himself shaking under her. It was all the emotion he so much tried to keep in check, to control.
That was why he'd married her. Because he trusted her enough to let her see him like this, see who he really was. She was part of him, the catalyst that let him be whole again.
She rocked him, his head in her hands, holding him, feeling the waves of emotion coming out of him, surfacing.
She held him as tightly as she could.
This was her man and he needed her. If he could do this, trust her with what he'd call his weakest self, she didn't have to worry. She could lay herself out for him – her own doubts, her own failings, inadequacies. He wasn't going to leave her for them. He wasn't going to leave.
"I was afraid you wouldn't understand."
"I probably don't, but I try."
"You expect life to be perfect all the time and-"
She shushed him, a finger to his lips. It was full dark now, later, the bridge lit out the window, a candle by the bed.
"I didn't want to let you down," she said, "and I was just so damn sad. And it wasn't you, it was me. It was my sadness. It was Eddie, my so-called youth, everything. I guess it just caught up to me."
Hardy lay there, quiet.
"I didn't want you to know. I didn't want it to hurt you."
"I think I know life's not perfect, Frannie. God knows, I know that."
"But you want ours to be, our home life, don't you? Sometimes you even think it can be."
"Don't you? Don't you think that's something to shoot for?"
"I don't know. I thought I did. And then this, this whole thing, feeling trapped, all of it…" She shifted in the bed, moving her head from the pillow to the crook of Hardy's shoulder, her leg over his middle.
"I didn't try to trap you into this, Frannie. Into being married. I thought you were happy…"
"It wasn't you, Dismas. I can see now that it wasn't you. It was my life. All of a sudden, I don't know what it was, it all just came back at me. And then I felt so much like I'd failed – I mean, I wasn't happy and I should have been and whose fault is that?"
"I generally blame a consortium of Arab investors."
"So do I, usually, but this time it didn't work, and I couldn't tell you. It wouldn't be fair with your trial coming up and all, and then I began to resent that… that I couldn't tell you, and then I convinced myself that you wouldn't care anyway, that this was just all stupid female stuff that isn't very linear anyway and can't be-"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa… what is that? Stupid female stuff? We didn’t invite any stupid females to this party."
"You know what I mean."
"I don't know what you mean. And linear?" He turned up on his elbow, looking down at her. "I don't know what you mean," he repeated. "Really."
Frannie closed her eyes for a breath. "I saw Jennifer."
"I know you did."
"No." She shook her head. "More than once. I snuck out. I left the kids with Erin and went and saw her."
"How many times?"
"I don't know. Three or four."
"At the jail?" He answered himself. "Of course at the jail." Hardy sat all the way up, pulling the sheet around him. Frannie put a hand on his leg.
"The first time… I guess we connected. Then I didn’t think you'd approve, or I didn't want to ask for your okay…"
"But then I talked myself into being mad that I felt like I had to clear it with you every time. That didn't seem right, that I had to ask permission."
"She's my client, Frannie." He was shaking his head, trying to fit this in somewhere.
"I know, I know. I should have talked with you, but it… it all seemed to fit in with the other stuff, being so depressed, feeling like I was trapped. Jennifer… well, she listened to me."
"Jennifer listened to you? Jesus." Hardy threw the sheet off and swung his legs off the bed. He walked to the window, not to see The View but because it was the only destination in the room. He stood stock still, then, without turning, whispered, "You talked to Jennifer about you and me? What's she got on us now?"
He heard her voice, small behind him. "It wasn't like that. Don't be mad at me now. Please."
He stood another minute, trying to piece it together. The images out the window – the lights on Union Street far below, the Golden Gate , the Presidio evergreens blurring the western horizon – they were piling up, falling over each other kaleidoscope fashion. Turning back, he sat again on the settee. "This was the secret?"
Frannie was at the edge of the bed. She paused, framing an answer. "All of it was a secret. It was all connected."
Hunched over, Hardy had his hands crossed in front of him, his head down.
"Dismas?" She was off the bed now, on the floor, on her knees in front of him again. He felt her hands on his legs.
"I'm not mad," he said. "Let's get that straight. I'm not mad at you and I'm glad we're talking about this. But did it occur to you that she might be using you?"
"She wasn't. I just told you it wasn't like that. At least I didn't think it was like that-"
He jumped at the difference. "You didn't think it was like that then, but you do now? You think it might have been?"
Frannie got up, grabbed the blanket and drew it around her, then sat on the edge of the bed. "No, I didn't say that." She took a deep breath and reached out again, the space between the bed and the settee. "I wish you wouldn't interrogate me. I want to talk about this, Dismas, but when we get into it like this I feel intimidated. It doesn't work, it doesn't get us anywhere."
"Where do you want us to get to, Frannie?"
"I want us to be able to talk again. I'm trying to tell you how it was."
In the candlelight her face was an amber cameo. He found he couldn't take his eyes off her. He nodded. Her arm was across the space between them, touching his leg, reaching out. He put his hand over hers.
This was not the time to argue, to tell Frannie that Jennifer might have had an agenda far removed from the one she'd led Frannie to believe. He came over next to her, pulling the blanket around both of them. "You're right," he said, kissing her, holding her against him. "I'm sorry. Talk to me."
"She told you Larry beat her?"
"Everybody has beaten her. She couldn't believe you never hit me, or Eddie never hit me. She didn't believe me, I could tell. Like the idea is completely outside her experience."
"It probably is."
They were still huddled together at the edge of the bed. "Let's not ever hit our kids, okay?" Hardy said.
"I know. Let's not start."
Frannie leaned into him. Muffled night sounds came up through the closed window – a truck's brakes squealing as it inched down the north Divisadero escarpment, a girl's carefree laugh from outside one of the clubs on Union.
"I still feel a little like I've abandoned her. Jennifer, I mean. I just… it got feeling wrong somehow."
"Well, I haven't abandoned her, so I guess it's still in the family, right?"
"I know, but-"
"Shh. Look. Maybe just hearing your story – some woman who doesn't get hit – maybe that'll give her hope that it's possible."
"If she believes it."
"And if she doesn't, you seeing her more isn't going to make her, is it?" He held his wife against him, breathing in her scent. The candle sputtered briefly. Hardy looked over and saw a thin rope of wax snake its way down the crystal holder, pooling on the dresser's surface. "I'm not trying to talk you out of anything, you know. If you want to see her some more, just tell me, okay? Let me know."
"I won't." She sighed. "There's some things… it's just too wrong."
"You said that. But if you're not going behind me…"
"No, that's not what's wrong. It's her, really, Jennifer. First I thought we… you know, we were two women… we could talk. But then she cut it off. She was about to tell me something important and then closed up, said I didn’t want to know. I began to wonder if maybe…"
"If maybe she's guilty?"
"Maybe. I couldn't handle that. Except I don't believe she killed Matt, even accidentally, or Larry. Maybe her first husband, I don't know. And if she did, I don't know whether I could handle it. If, I said. But she told me, why did I think she was fighting this thing so hard. The answer is she didn't kill them."
"Although Larry beat and abused her?"
"Please don't cross-examine me, Dismas. She told me Larry beat her. But she also said she didn't kill him, or Matt – not by accident or mistake or any other way or for any other reason."
Hardy looked at her, wondering if she was trying to convince herself. He certainly knew how that felt.
No one seemed to know where the storm came from, but rain slashed almost horizontally in gusts around Bryant Street, the temperature was in the low fifties and the gray paint on the Hall of Justice seemed a bruised and burnished blue as Hardy ran, raincoat flapping, from his parking space to the courthouse steps.
It was 12:42 when he entered the building. He knew they would be at recess, which was how he had planned it. He wasn't going directly to Villars' department anyway.
Freeman and Jennifer were having lunch in an abandoned office back behind the courtrooms.
Hardy nodded at the bailiff standing watch outside the door, then waited, getting his breathing under control from the run through the rain. He watched them through the wire-lined glass window in the door, talking, chatting really, at opposite sides of a pocked old green metal desk. He pushed open the door.
Freeman, his mouth full, raised a hand. "Greetings. We're killing 'em, Diz. Their feet are up, I swear to God."
Jennifer was pushing some three-bean salad around her white Styrofoam tray with a white plastic fork. He was struck again by the figure she cut – demure yet sophisticated, innocent and unattainable. It was as if she were Freeman's creation now – clay-molded by an artist.
Hardy had unbuttoned his dripping trenchcoat and now pulled a chair around backward and dropped himself over it. A gust delivered a fresh torrent of rain, slapping at the window in front of them hard enough to make everybody stop and look.
"More good news. The drought's over again." Freeman shoveled some tubular pasta in a glutinous red sauce. He mopped his mouth with an already spotted napkin. "Hey, Diz, listen up. I'm kicking some serious tail in there. I'm thinking about what I'm going to say in there." He pointed back behind him to the courtroom. "That's where I live, you hear me? You want some advice? No? I don't care, I'll give it to you anyway. You want to give good trial, that's where you'll live, too." More milk, another swipe of napkin. "It doesn't get in there, Diz, it doesn't count. And that's the truth. The truth is also we're winning right now."
A long moment went by while everyone looked at one another. More rain got flung against the window. Over downtown, lightning arced into a rod on a hotel rooftop, and seconds later the crash of thunder rolled through the room.
Jennifer, kitty-corner to him, put her manicured hand over his. One part of him registered that it was cool and dry, so he thought it was odd that it seemed to burn where she touched him.
"Jennifer never admitted to Harlan Poole that Ned was beating her. In fact, she always denied it. His opinion that she was being battered is totally speculative," Freeman said. "He can say he and Jennifer were having an affair. He can say he had atropine in his office. Period. I filed an early 1118 yestereday after we crucified Strout. And Poole is turning into a bigger disaster than Strout."
The 1118 is a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal, by which the judge is asked to rule that no reasonable jury could convict the defendant, that as a matter of law there isn't sufficient evidence to prove guilt. If the motion was granted, the charge would be dismissed and could never be retried.
"I'd bet Villars grants it after the recess." Freeman's eyes seemed to glow. He put a hand on Hardy's other sleeve. "He maybe can chew gum and walk, but I don't think Powell can run a campaign and a trial at the same time. This thing's gong south for him."
The bailiff knocked and entered. Judge Villars was coming out of her chambers. Trial was going back into session.
Hardy sat listening as Powell tried to find some wedge to introduce Harlan Poole's testimony.
The dentist was a wreck. It was hard to imagine that this portly, balding, bespectacled, sweating man had ever been Jennifer's lover. Also, the "low profile" that Terrell had promised him had turned out to be impossible to maintain. Like it or not, and he obviously hated it, Poole was a central figure in a capital murder trial. From his eyes, the role was playing havoc with his life.
"Dr. Poole." Powell was recovering from another sustained objection. Freeman had jumped up as he liked to do, and Villars criticized Powell for again referring to the fact that Ned had beaten Jennifer, which they hadn't been able to establish because it was hearsay.
In his frustration, Powell was walking in circles, facing the bench, then the jury, back to the defense table, then his own table, all the way back around to Poole. "Dr. Poole," he said, "you have testified that you were intimate with the defendant?"
Poole studied the ceiling, avoiding his wife in the gallery. He wiped a handkerchief across his eyebrows. "Yes."
"During you intimate moments did you have occasion to see the defendant naked?"
"Your Honor! Objection!"
But Powell had given this some thought. "Your Honor, at your insistence, we have to take this testimony out of the realm of hearsay. This is not a direction I would have chosen to go, but it is relevant and it is not hearsay."
Villars had her mask on. Eyes straight ahead, unmoving, she could have been a mannequin. "Let's have counsel up here."
Hardy rose along with Freeman. No one seemed to object, or even notice. They were before Villars, looking up.
Villars spoke quietly. "I'm not sure I'm going along with the relevance, Mr. Powell. What does Mrs. Witt's nakedness have to do with the alleged killing of her husband?"
Freeman, still feeling he was on a roll, incautiously spoke right up. "It doesn't."
A mistake. Villars glared. "When I want your answer or argument, Mr. Freeman, I'll address you, is that clear?" Without waiting for his response, she went back to the prosecutor. "Mr. Powell?"
"Your Honor, it speaks to motivation. We know that her husband was beating her and that-"
"Wait a minute. Up to now all I've heard about is the insurance and an affair…"
Hardy suddenly noticed that the court reporter wasn't there. He surprised himself by speaking up. "Excuse me, Your Honor, is this conference to go on the record?" The court reporter was supposed to take everything. Nothing in a capital case was off the record.
The judge seemed to realize for the first time that Hardy was even there. The look of surprise gave way to her usual intimidating glare, but Hardy didn't back down. "Perhaps we could go to chambers?"
"We just got out here." Extremely displeased, she frowned down at the three men who were waiting on her. "What's your point, Mr. Hardy?"
"We don't have to go to chambers, Your Honor." Powell was Mr. Conciliatory. "I'm sure we can settle this right here."
Villars straightened her back, drew in a quick breath. "I'm getting pretty damn tired of asking one person a question and getting an answer from another one. I ask Mr. Powell a question, Mr. Freeman answers me. I ask Mr. Hardy a question, Mr. Powell answers me. Now everybody listen up. I'm asking Mr. Hardy. You want this conference in chambers?"
She leveled a finger at him. "Yes, Your Honor," she corrected him, "not 'yes, ma'am'."
"Yes, Your Honor. I'm sorry."
Villars was moving papers around in front of her on the bench. She lowered her head, shaking it back and forth. "This really pisses me off," she whispered to no one.
She stood up. "The court reporter will accompany us to chambers. We're taking a short recess. Dr. Poole, you can stand down 'til we get back. It shouldn't take too long. Or you can stay where you are."
She led the parade out.
Her chambers were not much more impressive than the cubicles used by the Assistant DAs. The room itself was bigger and had its private bathroom and a sitting area away from the oak flat-topped desk, but even with two nice throw rugs and some framed prints the place had that public-building feel.
Hardy was now facing the wrath of Villars. "All right, Mr. Hardy, we're on the record in chambers. What are we in chambers for, if you don't mind?"
"Mr. Powell was discussing the relevance of-"
"I know what he was doing."
Hardy stepped back. "Okay, then, Your Honor, if he'd like to continue his argument. It might come up in the penalty phase, if there is one."
Villars reminded him of an angry bird, head tilted to one side, ready to peck his eyes out. She shifted her gaze to the prosector, who was sitting in one of the leather chairs. "All right, Mr. Powell, let's hear why Mrs. Witt's nakedness is relevant."
"Your Honor, Dr. Poole's testimony will give direct evidence that Ned Hollis used to beat Jennifer regularly, which of course would have given her another reason to have killed him. Surely that's relevant."
But also a point in mitigation, Hardy thought.
"You're saying this is a burning-bed case?"
"It may have those elements. It's a question of fact and we ought to let the jury decide."
Villars shook her head. "You realize you are introducing BWS here?" Referring to the battered-woman syndrome. "Do you have any evidence that what's-his-name, the second husband…?"
"… that Larry was beating her, too? Is that your argument?"
"Excuse me, Your Honor." Freeman wanted to get onto the boards. "We're not claiming BWS. She is not saying she had a reason – we're not saying she killed them because they beat her and they deserved it. We're saying she did not kill them at all."
Villars pushed herself up until she was sitting on the edge of her desk.
Hardy glanced at his partner. Freeman was leaning against one of the bookshelves, seemingly at ease arguing the position that Jennifer had not killed anybody for any reason.
Villars, her arms straight down on either side, palms flat on the desk, stared through the one window at the driving rain outside. "So I assume, Mr. Powell, that we're going to hear that Mrs. Witt had bruises, black and blue marks and so on, all over her body?"
"That's right, Your Honor."
"And the fact that Dr. Poole personally saw them takes this out of the realm of hearsay?"
Powell, seeing where she was going with this, began to squirm. The leather chair squeaked as he shifted. Still, he persisted. "The bruises themselves, Your Honor, are admissible. Dr. Poole saw them himself."
"And you would then ask the jury to somehow connect these marks on Mrs. Witt's body to her husband?"
"Your Honor, the truth is that her first husband, Ned, beat her. The implication can be drawn-"
Freeman stepped away from the bookcase. "That's not true, Dean." He turned to the judge. "Pardon me, Your Honor, but my client has consistently denied that she has been a battered wife, or that this will be any part of her defense. The jury cannot draw any implication at all from bruises that may have been caused by anything."
"Oh, get serious, David." Powell was halfway out of his chair. "You know as well as I do that-"
"Gentlemen! Let me remind you that we are on the record here, and that any remarks are to be made to the court." She wasn't waiting for a response but moved off the edge of the desk, facing both men. "Mr. Powell, from what I've seen here so far, you've got an evidence problem of substantial proportions. Are you planning to call somebody who's going to give us any testimony about the day Mr. Hollis died, where Mrs. Witt was on that day, anyone who saw her take the alleged atropine out of Dr. Poole's alleged drawer, or the alleged syringe, or who saw her dump it afterward?"
Powell was standing, hands in his pockets, trying to affect a casual posture. Hardy wasn't convinced and doubted anyone else was. "Your Honor, with the insurance, the pattern here-"
Villars held up her hand. "I asked you a simple yes or no question. Are you calling anybody to address any of the issues I just raised?"
"Your Honor, I-"
"Yes or no, damn it." She looked over to the court reporter. "Adrienne, strike that profanity." Then, back to Powell: "Yes or no, Mr. Powell."
A faraway rumble of thunder rolled through the room.
"Not to those specific issues. No, Your Honor."
"Are there any specific issues you'd like to preview for us that you can think of that would fall more or less into the category of evidence and not hearsay? Take your time."
Powell sat back down, leaning forward, his forearms on his thighs. "Lieutenant Batiste, who was the investigating officer for Ned Hollis' death, is scheduled to testify."
"Is this the same Lieutenant Batiste who did not see fit to arrest Mrs. Witt for murder nine years ago, presumably because there wasn't sufficient evidence to bring charges?"
Powell was combing his hair straight back with his hands. "We have several other witnesses, Your Honor."
"I'm sure you do, but are any of them going to say anything that might be remotely admissible? You know the law as well as I do, you tell me."
In the middle of his worst nightmare, Powell came up for the third time. "Your Honor, after much deliberation and at some expense, the District Attorney's office decided to exhume Ned Hollis and run scans for poisons. We found the atropine, which is not a recreational drug, in a lethal dose."
"Your Honor," Freeman broke in, "their own witness says Hollis experimented with drugs. He wanted to see if atropine could get him high, that's all."
Villars ignored Freeman's interruption, her eyes on the prosecutor. "As you know, Mr. Powell, the point is not whether you think it, which I believe you do, but whether you can prove it – beyond a reasonable doubt – that Ned Hollis was murdered. Now, what I see is an insurance policy that was used for its original purpose, to pay off the house. I see a recreational-drug user experimenting with a dangerous drug. And here you are waffling on your motive – if Mrs. Witt didn't kill her husband for the money, then she killed him because he was allegedly beating her. Do you have any reports from doctors documenting these beatings? Did she ever report them to the police?"
There was, finally, nothing Powell could say.
Nodding, Villars crossed her arms and walked around behind her desk and stood there a moment. Everyone waited. The rain beat against the window and the clicking of the court reporter's keys stopped. Villars leaned over her chair and picked up, then dropped, four or five stapled pages of legal brief.
She shook her head, taking in the assemblage. "I'm going to be taking a moment to consider this situation. I'd like you all to return here to chambers in fifteen minutes."
Back in her chambers, Villars told Freeman and Hardy that she was prepared to declare a mistrial on Ned Hollis if they wanted it. Of course, in that case, Jennifer could – and would – be retried for the Witt murders only.
Obviously, the jury had been prejudiced – they had heard that the DA, at least, thought that Jennifer had killed her first husband. Also obviously, the jury must have a poor impression of Powell, who was bringing charges that "no reasonable juror" could believe.
Freeman and Hardy wrestled about who got hurt more – the prosecution or the defense. In the end, though, it was Jennifer who made the decision – she did not want to sit in jail while they set a new trial date and started all over again.
They put it all on the record with Villars.
"Your Honor," Freeman said, "I believe the grounds for a mistrial wee caused by prosecutorial misconduct that has violated my client's due-process rights. I believe the case must be dismissed in its entirety and that all further prosecution is barred because Mrs. Witt has been placed once in jeopardy."
Villars hated this. "Nice try, Mr. Freeman. Are you asking for a mistrial or not? If you ask for it, the defendant can be retried. If you don't request it I am not granting it on my own motion."
Freeman, not really expecting to have it both ways, was satisfied nonetheless. But he kept a straight face. "In that case, Your Honor, although I believe the trial has been fatally tainted, we elect to proceed. I have explained the situation to Mrs. Witt, and she elects to go forward. Isn't that true, Jennifer?"
Jennifer looked up. "Yes."
They all trooped back into the courtroom, where Villars announced to the jury that she had decided to grant defense counsel's 1118 motion regarding the murder of Ned Hollis – there wasn't enough evidence as a matter of law to convict Jennifer Witt of killing her first husband. They would be moving on to the next phase