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Authors: Scott Turow

Tags: #Psychological, #Legal, #Fiction

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BOOK: Reversible Errors
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Understanding all that, Gillian nonetheless found the fortunes that had brought her together again with sad, driven little Arthur Raven somehow indigestible. Thirteen years ago, after twenty months on the bench, Gillian had received her first assignment in the criminal courts, presiding over misdemeanor cases and probable cause hearings. Arthur Raven was the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney delegated to her courtroom. They were each new to their jobs, and at that point she was certain her prospects were far brighter than Arthur s. It was common in trial practice to find men and women skilled in making themselves appealing, people who had mastered the outward gestures of candor and humility, even when they masked a volcanic core of egocentricity and ambition. With Arthur, what you saw was what you got: relentless intensity and a desire to win that bordered on the desperate. Half the time he was before her, she wanted to tell him just to take a pill. She probably had, since, even by her own reckoning, she'd never been especially kindly or patient as a judge. But who could blame her? Beneath it all, Arthur seemed to cling to the unlikely belief that victory would at last impart the more triumphant character he so clearly yearned for.

As if it was not a ridiculously loaded question, Arthur now asked, "And how have you been?"

"So-so," she answered. The truth was that after several years of coming to grips, she was realizing she had not come to grips at all.

There were periods-most of the time now, and always for several years-when the sheer shame of her situation left her mad, mad in the sense that she knew every thought was disrupted by it, like a vehicle bouncing down a cratered road.

"You still look terrific," he offered.

In Gillian's experience, a man's motives for complimenting a woman were always suspect, a stepping-stone to sex or some less grandiose manipulation. She asked abruptly what this was about.

"Well," he said, "let me use your word. It's awkward. I've been appointed by the U
. S
. Court of Appeals on a case. A second habeas. Rommy Gandolph. Do you recall the name?"

She did, naturally. Only two capital cases had reached sentencing in the years she had sat in Felony. In the other, the death penalty had been imposed by a jury. Rommy Gandolph had been her responsibility alone. Bench trial. Bench sentencing. She'd reconsidered the case again a couple of months ago when she'd received a letter from Rud- yard with the typically crazed claims of a prisoner who, ten years after the murders, suddenly said he had critical knowledge to share with her. Probably someone she'd sent to the joint, now hoping to get her clown there to spit in her eye. Searching her memory of the Gandolph trial, she could still summon the photos of the bodies in the restaurant food locker. During the trial, one of the cops had explained that the freezer was vast because of the wide menu Paradise offered. A strange undoing.

"Right," said Raven when she described the case. "Good Gus. But you know the game. I have to plow every row. There are even moments when I'm delusional and think he might be innocent. I have this associate," he said, "she's been tearing this case apart, coming up with amazing stuff. Here, look at this."

From out of his thick case, Raven handed over the first of several sheets of paper. Apparently, he was trying to work up a theory that Gandolph had been in jail on a probation violation at the time of the murders. Few records remained, and Gandolph's rap sheet offered no corroboration. But within the last few days, Arthur had found a transfer manifest showing that his client had been transported to court on the morning of July 5, 1991, from the House of Corrections.

"And what does Muriel say to that?" Gillian asked. Muriel Wynn, who'd been the junior prosecutor on the case a decade ago, was now the Chief Deputy P
. A
. and the short-odds favorite to succeed Ned Halsey as the Prosecuting Attorney in next year's election. Gillian had never cared much for Muriel, the kind of hard-boiled woman the felony courthouse produced often these days. But, truth be told, Gillian's appreciation for prosecutors, even though she had once been one, had all but disappeared given her experiences of the last several years.

"She thinks Rommy's probation officer must have gone out and collared him that morning so he didn't blow his court date," Arthur said. "I don't buy it on a Friday, right after a holiday, when nobody wanted to be working. Muriel also says it's ridiculous to think that both the client and the defense lawyer missed the fact that Rommy was in jail when the murders went down. But he wasn't arrested until four months after the crime, and Rommy doesn't know today from tomorrow."

Gillian's wager would have been that Muriel was correct. But she was unwilling to jump into the argument. With Arthur, she felt recalled to a mode of decorum she thought she'd left behind: she was trying to be judicial. Notwithstanding her efforts to respond neutrally, he appeared to detect her skepticism.

"There was a lot of bad evidence," he said. "I know that. I mean, Rommy confessed about twenty times. And Christ could return to earth to testify in my client's behalf and I'd still lose at this stage. But the guy had no history of assaults or armed robberies. Which Molto and Muriel explained at trial by claiming my guy was dusted, and now all the research on PCP says it doesn't correlate to violence. So, you know, there's stuff."

"And how did the Court of Appeals appoint you, Arthur?"

"Beats me. They always figure big law firms have the resources. Besides, someone up there probably remembered I have death- penalty experience from prosecuting Francesco Fortunato."

"The fellow who poisoned his family?"

"Three generations, grandparents through children, and laughed out loud in court every time we mentioned one of their names. Eve
n s
o, I nearly passed out as the jury read the death sentence. That's when I transferred to Financial Crimes. I'd probably die myself if I had to push the button in the execution chamber, but I still believe in capital punishment in principle."

Oddly, Gillian didn't-not now or before. Too much trouble, in a few words. A decade ago, after Rommy Gandolph's trial was over, his defense lawyer, Ed Murkowski, admitted to her that he'd taken a bench sentencing because he'd heard a rumor about her views. But she wasn't sitting there as a legislator. If any crime warranted execution, Gandolph's did.

"And what is it that you want to know from me, Arthur? If I have second thoughts?" At this point no one would care about her opinion. And she had no doubts anyway about Gandolph's guilt-she'd settled that again in her own mind months ago when the prisoner's letter had arrived from Rudyard. She could still recall another remark Murkowski, Gandolph's lawyer, had passed after sentencing, when all of them, including the prosecutors, had communed in her chambers for a moment now that the awful words had been spoken. Gillian had commented dryly about Gandolph's insanity defense and Ed had responded, 'It was better than the story he had to tell, Judge. That was nothing but a slow guilty plea.'

She had some thought to explain all of that to Arthur, but his black eyes had suddenly dropped to her ashtray, studying the gray remains there as if they were tea leaves. Arthur, she realized, was finally going to get to the point.

"The Court of Appeals is killing me with kindness," he said, "probably because they appointed me. I begged for a chance to do discovery and they sent the matter down to the District Court until June 29th, before they decide whether to permit Gandolph to actually file a new habeas. So I'm turning over every stone." He finally ended his studied efforts not to look at her. "Listen, I have to ask. While you sat in Felony, were you doing what got you in trouble later, when you were hearing personal-injury cases?"

She had not been enjoying this conversation much as it was, but now that she recognized the direction, a familiar freeze overcame her.

"Do people say that?"

"Gillian, please don't play games. Or get insulted. I'm doing what I have to do."

"No, Arthur, I wasn't taking money when I heard criminal matters. No one bribed me on Rommy Gandolph s case-or any other case at that time. It began in Common Pleas, where it seemed to be the order of the day." She shook her head once, both at the lunacy of it and because her remark sounded faintly like an excuse.

"All right," he said, but he was plainly applying a lawyer's judgment to her answer, weighing its verity. Watching him calculate, she decided that Arthur did not look particularly well. He was short, and had never appeared especially fit, but he was aging before his time. His dark eyes had retreated into bruised-looking flesh that suggested overwork and poor diet, and his hair was thinning. Worst, he still had an aspect of hound-dog eagerness, as if his tongue at any second might lop out of the corner of his mouth. She recalled then that he had a situation, family trouble, someone chronically sick. Perhaps it had worn him out.

"And what about the drink, judge?"

"The drink?"

"Did you have an alcohol problem when you sat on Rommy Gan- dolph's case?"

"No."

"You weren't drinking?"

He was skeptical -justifiably, she knew.

"What do other people say, Arthur?"

"What other people say won't matter much, if you're going to testify that you weren't drinking hard at the time."

"I drank, Arthur. But not to excess."

"Not at that time?"

She flexed her tongue a bit in her mouth. Governed by common understanding, Raven had missed his mark. She could correct him, or say, 'Never,' and see if Arthur eventually wandered to the right place, but she remembered the instructions every skilled lawyer offered in preparing a witness: Answer the question you are asked. Briefly, if possible. Do not volunteer.

"No, not at that time." She tossed her cigarettes into her sued
e s
houlder bag, and snapped it authoritatively. She was ready to go, and asked if Raven was finished. Instead, he took a second to run a thick finger around the rim of his coffee cup.

"I have a personal question," he said at last, "if you don't mind."

He was probably going to ask what everyone wondered. Why? Why had she allowed a life of limitless promise to subside into dependency and, in short order, crime? Raven was too socially awkward to hesitate where courtesy kept others from going, and she felt the familiar iron hand of resentment. Why didn't people understand that it was unfathomable to her? Could anyone who was not, even now, such a thoroughgoing mystery to herself ever have fallen so low? But Raven's concerns were more pedestrian.

"I keep wondering why you came back here. I mean, you're like me, right? Single? No kids?"

Were he uncaged, Raven apparently would have flown away. Yet she felt an impulsive reluctance to compare herself to Arthur. She had been alone, but by choice, and always took it as a temporary condition. She'd been thirty-nine years old the night the federal agents arrived at her door, but a marriage, a family, remained solid figures in the portrait she'd drawn of her future.

"My mother was dying. And the Bureau of Prisons was willing to give me credit for helping take care of her. It was the Bureau's choice, frankly." Like other answers she'd offered Raven, this one, too, was comfortably incomplete. She'd left prison broke -the government and her lawyers had taken everything. And Duffy Muldawer, her 'sponsor' in the parlance of twelve-step programs, had been willing to offer her a place to stay. Even at that, she sometimes shared Raven's puzzlement about why she'd returned to what was, in all senses, the scene of the crime. "Once my community release time is over, I'll probably ask to move."

"She's gone? Your mother?"

"Four months ago."

I m sorry.

Gillian shrugged. She had not yet sorted out how she felt about the death of either of her parents-although it had long seemed one of her few strengths that she did not dwell 011 this sort of thing. She had had a home and a childhood that were worse than many, better than some. There were six kids and two alcoholic parents and a continuing state of rivalry and warfare among all of them. To Gillian, the whole significance of her upbringing was that it had inspired her to go on. It was like coming from Pompeii-the smoldering ruins and poisoned atmosphere could only be fled. Civilization would have to be reinvented elsewhere. She had put her entire faith in two things: intelligence and beaut)'. She was beautiful and she was smart, and with such assets she had seen no reason to be dragged down by what was behind her. The Jill Sullivan born in that house emerged as the Gillian she had willed into existence. And then destroyed.

"My father died three months ago and I'm still a wreck," Arthur said. His short brow was briefly molded by pain. "He never stopped making me crazy. He was probably the most nervous human being ever to walk the earth. Anxiety should have killed him years ago. But, you know, all that hovering and clucking-I always felt how much he cared." Ravens eyes, stilled by recollection, rose to her, confessing in a darkly plaintive look how rare such persons were in his life. Arthur was like some puppy always sticking his wet nose in your hand. In an instant, even he appeared embarrassed, either by how much he'd revealed or by her evident discomfort. "Why am I telling you this?" he asked.

"Probably because you think someone like me has nothing better to do," she answered.

Her tone was purely conversational, and she thought at first the words must have meant something other than what they seemed to. But they didn't. For a moment the pure brutality of the remark seemed to stun them both. A quiver passed through Raven's doughy face, then he straightened and closed one button on his coat.

BOOK: Reversible Errors
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