Trial of Conscience
Sydney rubbed her temples as she stopped reviewing the latest draft of the complaint. The words had started to blur on the pages in front of her. They had been in the office since seven this morning. I swear I need to check out my constitutional right to sleep in on Saturdays. The blow of being awakened from a sound sleep at six had been softened by a promise from Evin that they would sleep in tomorrow morning before going to see the Doleses.
"Headache?" a low voice inquired as Evin stepped into the office from her conference room.
"Just information overload." Green eyes observed the dark haired attorney intently as she tried to keep the surprise from her face. Evin had been so focused on her work that she had hardly spoken, save for a grunt when Jeffrey had come in to bring more coffee. Sydney reached the conclusion that Evin wouldn't have noticed if Sydney had danced on her desktop naked. Maybe I was wrong.
Andrew looked up from his perch on the couch, where he had been highlighting information in several reports. "Wait until the motions start to fly. This place will look like it's been decorated by Hammerhead."
"It's Hammermill, Andrew." Evin corrected.
And it doesn't already? Sydney thought as she looked at the mounds of paper everywhere. "You know, Evin, tomorrow...Willie and Emma are going to be a little overwhelmed by all of this." Hell, I'm overwhelmed and I'm in law school."Can we stop for a little while? I have some questions about all of this and I want to make sure that I can answer them if Willie and Emma ask."
"Sure, Syd." Evin picked up a stack of folders. "Let me put these back in the conference room and we can take a break."
The door opened and Jeffrey appeared with a pitcher of iced tea and glasses. A sandy blonde head cocked to the side. "Y'all want lunch?"
"Nah, not hungry," Evin answered absently as she headed towards her conference room.
"Yeah...you ordering from Frankie's?"
"Uh huh," the secretary confirmed as he placed the iced tea pitcher and glasses on the table. "Plate special's the fried shrimp."
"I'll take that."
"Um... I'll take the chicken Caesar. Get Evin the grilled chicken salad with blue cheese. Extra chicken, extra blue cheese, hold the lettuce." At Jeffrey's inquiring look, she added, "I know what she said. She'll eat it if I put it in front of her."
"Got it." Jeffrey chuckled as he walked out. "Hold the lettuce. I love that."
The investigator smiled. She seems to have a handle on our pumpkin. "So Syd, y'all going to that big party tonight?"
"Yeah, we're dressing as a group of Judge Judies."
"You have got to get me a picture of Evin in costume. Oh, man, that is gonna be great," he laughed. "If I showed that around court, it would be a guaranteed heart attack inducer."
"Only if you get me a copy of that picture of her," the law student bargained.
Both Sydney and Andrew turned to look at the attorney, who had come back into the room.
"Picture? Did I say picture? Counselor, you must have misunderstood," Sydney replied innocently. Carole had mentioned a picture that Andrew had of Evin, sitting in her cubicle at the Law Clinic. I will get a copy of that picture.
"Uh huh," Evin said skeptically. "You ready to take a break?"
Two voices responded in unison. "Yes."
Evin took a seat at the table next to Sydney. "Fire away, Syd."
The law student paused for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. "Some of this...it doesn't make any sense to me. Like, why wouldn't they just acquire some other land?"
"I don't know."
Her nose wrinkled as she thought. "Was it that Gator guy who did all that stuff to the Doleses' farm? Took the shots at you?"
"I don't know," Evin evenly replied
"But he did break in to the Clinic, right?"
"Seems that way."
"Did he kill Angela Battiste and Danny Naquin?" Sydney pressed.
"I doubt it."
"Then who did?"
Evin shrugged. "I have no idea."
Sydney found it somewhat hard to believe that the people whose names were listed on the white board had actually done what Evin was about to accuse them of doing. It seemed so much simpler to her to just go buy some other land, and she found herself voicing that opinion. "This is really hard to believe, Evin. For me, it still goes back to the land. Why not just go out and buy more land? Why put yourself at risk this way?"
Andrew watched the exchange with interested eyes. Clearly, Sydney was less than satisfied with Evin's answers. The slight flush suffusing her fair skin was testament to that fact. He wondered how long the attorney's temper would hold. She was not used to answering questions, and he had been not just a little surprised at the patience Evin was demonstrating.
He had first thought, long ago when he had helped with Landau, that she was an arrogant, intellectual bitch, disdaining the need to explain her logic and reasoning to those around her. He soon realized that his first impression was wrong. Very wrong. She would eventually explain, but on her own terms. Her thoughts were like a freight train speeding downhill, barely in control. You had to pick and choose when you asked questions, because if her brain was in gear at the moment, you got run over. That simple. Much better to wait until the train pulls into the station.
"It seems to me that we don't know an awful lot," Sydney observed.
"We know more than we did," Evin responded reasonably.
"When will we know it all?"
The inside of Sydney's lip ached from where she had just bitten it to keep from screaming at her calm, cool and apparently unconcerned lover. The only indication that they weren't chatting about the weather was the intensity of the look in Evin's eyes. After a short pause, she asked, "And that doesn't bother you?"
Let's try a different avenue here. "How are we going to prove any of this?"
"That's going to be the interesting part." Evin shifted in her chair. "I don't even know if we'll need to."
Green eyes grew wide. "What? What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that a lot could happen between now and any trial date." A hand ran through her hair. "The single most important thing right now is getting the temporary injunction. That will put a halt to the state court proceedings. What we've got right now is a very interesting little tale of conspiracy and intrigue with some amazing coincidences and a few mustard-stained documents to back us up." I can't wait until the judge asks me about that. "I've got to sell that to a judge. It should be enough to at least get the injunction. A trial...well, that's a whole different ballgame."
"But you said yesterday that you would win."
Her head shook. "What I said was that with luck, I have a shot if we get to trial. It's not the same thing. It...." Her eyes closed momentarily as she sought for the words to explain. She finally countered, "What's the purpose of what we're doing?"
"I thought to win," Sydney snapped with a touch of irritation.
"Well, Syd," Evin drawled. "There are different types of winning. Sometimes, even when you lose, you win."
A spark flared in the green eyes. "I hate when you do that."
"Look, this isn't some auto accident case where you file suit, take a couple of depositions and go to trial. Don't lose your focus on what we're trying to accomplish. Saving the Doleses' land...that's it."
"You've done one of these RICO cases before."
It sounds like an accusation. "Yes."
"And you won it."
"Yes," Evin allowed. "And I also had twenty-one eyewitness statements to back me up. Any idiot could have convinced a judge to issue an injunction. And the defendants knew they would lose at trial. That's why they settled. It wasn't any skill on my part. If we're lucky enough to get the injunction in this case and not have to put the Doleses into bankruptcy, we've done our job. Even if we do have to eventually file the bankruptcy, we've still achieved our primary goal. We're buying time for the cavalry to come riding in to the rescue."
Annoyed, Sydney reached out and pushed the papers in front of her away. "We are the cavalry."
"No, Syd, we're not. You've said it yourself. You want these people to pay for what they did...the murders...everything. We operate in the civil venue. At most, the Doleses get to keep their land and we get a monetary judgment if we win at trial. That's not paying for shit. You want them to pay for the crimes they've committed? Then we hold on until they can build a case. We don't have the power that the Feds do. We can subpoena documents, but we can't conduct searches of their businesses or homes for anything. We can't conduct a Grand Jury. There are a lot of things we don't have the power to do that the Feds can."
"What if they don't come to the rescue?"
Blue and green eyes met as they silently challenged each other for long seconds. "You know, Syd, you don't seem to understand....."
Her eyes narrowed. "No, I don't do I?"
Take a deep breath, Moran. This is just the first day of the rest of the case. She's a law student. Don't expect her to know everything. "I...Syd, this isn't the kind of case you want to walk into court with. It's full of holes and I don't know if we can fill them." She watched the law student fidget for a few seconds. She doesn't like what she's hearing at all. Evin consciously gentled her voice. "Honey, we're doing all we can to make sure that they do come to the rescue. Andrew's going up on Monday to talk to the Lafayette police about what we've got and our theory. I've scheduled a meeting with one of the U.S. Attorneys I know at the Department of Justice for Monday afternoon. If we're lucky...very lucky, we have a shot at getting to trial. That's when we pray fervently that we pick the right jury and maybe, just maybe, they'll see things that way. In the meantime, we're going to pressure the hell out of every criminal agency we can think of to get them very interested in this case."
Evin watched as Sydney's eyes rested on the documents in front of her. I think I need to let her sleep in on Saturdays. She's been so grumpy this morning. She's going to hate me by the time this thing is all over with.
The law student finally looked up. "None of this really bothers you, does it?"
"I...it...what do you mean by it bothering me?"
"It seems to me like you don't care if we get a chance to go to trial."
The anger surged and her mouth opened to respond, but she quickly clamped down before any sound came out. "Rule number three, Syd. Things are not always what they seem."
"Do you always have to talk like a...a lawyer?"
A dark brow elevated. "You didn't complain about my oral skills last night. Or this morning."
A crimson blush rapidly rose to the tips of her ears. "I...I...I," she stammered as she heard a muffled laugh from Andrew. Her eyes were now glued on her hands which crossed in front of her.
Evin looked at Andrew and motioned to the door with her head. He obediently got up and quietly left the room. Reaching across the table, she took one of Sydney's hands into her own. "Baby, I'm just trying to get you to relax. I...I didn't mean to embarrass you. I'm sorry. This case...it's going to be a long haul and you're...tense." There. That's a good word. Tense. "You're not going to learn the subtle nuances of RICO claims and trial practice overnight."
Last night, sitting on the couch in Sydney's den, Evin had tried to patiently endure a barrage of questions from the law student. Her patience waned as the night progressed. She gave up trying to answer them all. It hadn't slowed Sydney down for a second. She finally pulled Sydney into her lap and kissed her until they were both gasping for air. Looking at Sydney's expression now, she decided that particular tactic, effective last night, would probably backfire now.
"Subtle nuances? I don't even know the first damn thing about it," Sydney replied, frustrated. "And you're acting like.... I don't know what you're acting like."
"An asshole, I'm sure." So much for me trying to lighten the mood.
"No...not an asshole. You're...you've been...." What exactly has she been, Sydney? She came and got you from school to talk to you about this instead of just going off and doing what she wanted to do. She took you to a childhood haunt that obviously meant a great deal to her. She's been more open with you the last several days. She's been remarkably patient...for her. She's been attentive, even when you thought she wasn't paying attention to you. She's answered every question you've had and hasn't taken your head off once. This is what you're complaining about? "I...." can be a real jerk sometimes. "Hi."
Evin blinked. "Um, hi."
A shy smile. "Do you ever want to start a day over?"
"Lots of times, Syd."
"I'd really like to start this day over. Well, not the first part when we woke up, but the rest of it."
"Has it...have I been that bad?" Evin asked hesitantly. Christ, how the hell are we going to get through this? I haven't even filed the damn lawsuit yet and I'm already making her crazy.
"No...no, it's me." She gave a reassuring squeeze to the hand holding hers.
"I'm being a baby about all this."
"No, you're not," Evin contradicted.
"I am, and don't you try to be nice about it, Evin Moran."
"But...." Evin's jaw snapped shut at the look on Sydney's face. I'm really not, she added silently. And I have no clue what's going on here."Syd, why would you think you're being a baby about this?"
Besides the fact that I just want to lay down on the floor and throw a temper tantrum the likes of which the world hasn't seen since I was three?"Because I'm wallowing in self-pity and I'm sure that it's not very attractive."
It was almost an audible click as pieces of the puzzle slid into place for Evin. Damn, why didn't I realize this before? Now let's see if I can come up with something that will make her feel better. 'This ought to be interesting,' the little voice chimed in. Shut up. "I imagine if I were you, I'd be ready to throw a world-class fit right about now."
"Yes. I'd be very disappointed if something I had worked so hard on for so long were taken away from me." Jesus, Moran, did you think that because she was going to help, she wouldn't be disappointed? If somebody did this to you, there'd probably be dead bodies all over the place. Sydney's a fighter, just like you are.
A small sigh. "I...am...disappointed. And I'm pretty frustrated, too. Sometimes...." Sydney looked around the room. "I just want to know all this stuff. I feel stupid because you know it and I don't. I feel like I'm slowing you down in some way...being a pain in the ass because you have to stop and answer my stupid questions. I don't seem to be getting any of this at all."
"I've been at this longer than you have, Syd, and I still don't know it all. I learn new things every day. I imagine I'll be learning a few new things with this case." Evin chuckled wryly. "And probably remembering a lot of things I'll be wishing I didn't need to be reminded of."
A warm smile was offered. "You always say the nicest things to me. Thank you."
"Nothing nice about it, Syd. Just the truth." Evin brushed Sydney's cheek with her fingertips. A thought popped into her head. "I've...will you do something for me?"
"I want you to pretend that I'm the jury and you're giving the opening statement at trial. What would you tell the jury?"
"Evin, I don't...." Sydney looked uncertain. "I don't know if I can."
"Sure you can, baby. You know the facts of the case and we both know that you can talk." A smile softened the words. "Just give it a try."
"I...." A deep breath. "Okay. Do I need to stand up?"
"Whatever way you want to do it." An indulgent grin crossed Evin's face. "I'm an easy juror."
Sydney stood and walked over to the white board where the defendants' names were listed and stared at if for several minutes, collecting her thoughts. She finally turned around and looked at Evin.
Oh yeah, Evin's mind purred as she took in the image of the woman standing before her. She's going to be so very good in front of a jury. Subtle changes transformed the law student. You have to play to the jury, but in Syd's case, there is no playing. For Evin, particularly in a jury trial, she had to consciously remind herself to tone down her natural aggressive tendencies. Juries hate you and they hate your clients. Sydney's youthful features, the impossibly honest green eyes and her relaxed posture reflected a quiet confidence.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon," she started, her voice clear and warm. "My name is Sydney Parker and I am the attorney for the plaintiffs in this matter, William and Emma Dolese." Sydney hesitated, a momentary flash of uncertainty crossing her features.
Come on, baby. You can do this. Just relax, Evin urged silently.
The uncertainty left as she looked at Evin. She thinks I can do this. "This case presents a problem that is as old as time...man coveting what another has." A pause. "Willie and Emma own a piece of land...their farm...their home...and the defendants wanted that land desperately." Another pause. "Desperately enough that, when the Doleses refused their offer to purchase the land from them, they did what you and I would not do. The defendants ignored the law."
Sydney looked down for a moment then back up, an apologetic look on her face. "I'm sorry. Ignoring can't begin to describe what they did." A flash of pain and anger in the green eyes and the voice. "They actively broke the law."
Evin almost screamed a "Yes!" Perfect touch! Oh God, this is almost as good as sex.
Her tone became conversational. "Willie woke up one morning, went outside and found one of his tractors, which was working fine the day before, mysteriously missing a part. Another day, his truck was vandalized, the windshield broken. Potshots were taken at his mailbox several times. There were many more instances of terror and intimidation and Willie will tell you about them when he testifies. At first, he attributed all of it to juvenile pranks. It's what any reasonable person would do, I think. Never in their wildest dreams did Willie or Emma suspect that they were the target of a plot to drive them off their land."
A nod and a small smile from Evin encouraged her to continue.
"I'm going to backtrack a moment so I can tell you about how Willie and Emma acquired the land." Sydney moved to the white board that held the maps. "Hynes Refining Corporation, one of the defendants, owned a large piece of land about fifteen miles north of the Hynes plant in Hahnville. Hynes decided to sell off this land." Sydney stopped and looked at Evin questioningly. "Why did they sell the land?"
The door opened and Jeffrey and Andrew came in with the food. "Hey, what...."
"Y'all," Evin said as she pointed at them. "Shut up, take a seat and eat quietly. Syd, don't worry about it. Just keep going. Don't stop."
Andrew and Jeffrey exchanged looks and dutifully moved to sit at the table with Evin.
One hand tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear before Sydney continued. "In February of 1995, a man named Michael Odom purchased the land from Hynes and subdivided it into five parcels. Willie and Emma took their life savings out of the bank, and with a loan they received, they purchased their dream." Her finger pointed at the map. "This middle one...a piece of farmland."
"For five years, the Doleses have farmed that land, growing sugar cane. They don't make a lot of money, but it's enough to support themselves and their three children. Every month, Willie and Emma sat down at their kitchen table and wrote a check out to the bank to pay their mortgage. Not once...not once were they late on the payments to the bank. Then, in March of 1997, Willie and Emma received a notice to start sending the payments to Hynes Refining Corporation. The bank had sold the note to Hynes. Like clockwork, Willie sent the mortgage payments to Hynes."
"The first check he sent in to Hynes in April...Willie noticed on his bank statement that the check hadn't cleared the bank. Worried, he did what you or I would do. He called Hynes. He spoke with a young woman by the name of Angela Battiste, who was a clerk in Hynes' Accounting Department. She assured him that Hynes had received his check and apologized to him for it not being deposited timely and hoped that it hadn't cause him any worry. She went on to tell him that she was a new employee and that the entire Accounting Department had been thrown for a loop when the check came in the mail. No one there knew anything about a mortgage note or what to do with the checks. Her boss, Odette Thibaut, finally got it all figured out, and the check had then been deposited. The next month, Willie's bank statement showed that the check cleared."
Sydney paused for a moment when she noticed three sets of eyes glued to her. With a small smile for her rapt audience, she continued. "Several times, Willie noticed that the check hadn't cleared on his bank statement. Each time, he called and spoke with Angela Battiste. Each time, she explained to him that Hynes had received the check, that it had been posted to his mortgage note and that she simply hadn't deposited it yet. Each time, he accepted her reply and, sure enough, he'd get the next bank statement and the check had cleared."
"In April of this year, Willie noticed that the check for the March mortgage payment hadn't cleared his account. He called about it and she gave him the usual explanation, but when he got his next bank statement, it still hadn't cleared. So he called her again. She apologized to him and told Willie that it was her fault because it had gotten stuck in between two files on her desk. She assured him that the check for the March payment and the one for the April payment were sitting on her desk and would be deposited that day."
"Shock doesn't even begin to describe what Willie and Emma felt when a sheriff showed up the morning of June 7th and handed them a summons and a lawsuit. Hynes was attempting to foreclose on the mortgage. But the defendants didn't settle for just filing the suit. The vandalism escalated. Sugar was poured into gas tanks. Equipment was stolen. The gunshots were no longer confined to the mailbox, but started hitting closer to home. Willie and Emma filed police report after police report. Just some bored kids getting their kicks was what one of the officers told them once. If it had been that simple, I wouldn't be standing in front of you today."
Sydney paused and cleared her throat. "Sorry, getting a little scratchy."
Three hands grabbed for Sydney's iced tea. Evin got there first and, with a backwards glare towards Andrew and Jeffrey, carried it over to Sydney. She handed Sydney the glass and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. "You're doing real good, baby. Why don't you take a little break and eat?"
"Thanks." She returned the smile. "It...it feels good. I remember more than I thought."
"I knew you would."
Sydney's smile broadened.
"Come on and eat," Evin said as she resumed her seat.
"She's good," Andrew murmured quietly as Jeffrey grunted an agreement.
"Damn right she is." It's gotta be a sin to feel this proud.
The law student started blushing as she took a seat in the empty chair at the table. "Are y'all finished talking about me like I'm not here?"
Three voices responded as one. "Yes."
She was mildly embarrassed and felt somewhat shy. In some ways, this is easier to do in front of total strangers. But telling the story felt good and she found herself so caught up in it that she forgot she was standing in front of her friends.
Evin gave Sydney an annoyed look as Jeffrey handed her a Styrofoam container. She returned the look, unrepentant, and Evin sighed and opened the container.
"Critique Syd's statement so far, Andrew," the attorney asked as she picked up her fork and stabbed at a piece of chicken covered in blue cheese dressing.
The investigator popped a fried shrimp into his mouth and chewed for a minute as he thought. "Definite presence. Calm. Confident. Maintained eye contact. Good voice modulation. Right level of emotion and it really comes through." A french fry found its way to his mouth. "I didn't hear the first couple of minutes, so I don't know what the hook is or the theme, but the factual recitation was clear and concise."
Evin interrupted. "Yeah, we should be able to get a couple of exhibits that we can use for the timeline and the players. Tighten it up a bit. Too damn bad there's so many defendants. Don't want to get the jury confused at the start." She stood and retrieved a pen and legal pad from her desk, then settled back into her chair and started writing as she ate. "We need to work in a line about Battiste being murdered. The opening line...'a problem as old as time...one man coveting what another has' was really good. Covet...good word. That word always makes people think of sin. As far as the theme, I think the big guy versus little guy will work. Powerful people who want what they want when they want it and do anything they can to make sure it happens versus the poor slob trying to eke out a living, the family home...that line about 'their dream' was good, too. That should play well. I'd spend a little time on that before I started into the factual recitation."
The law student ate quietly as she listened to the discussion. It seemed somewhat clinical and cold. Not the critiquing of her words. That had been done enough in the trial classes that she had taken. You were filmed and the video was played over and over and over as the other students and the professors picked apart your performance. Maybe that's what seems weird. This wasn't a performance. I care about the Doleses. I really felt that pain and anger.
Sydney observed the tall attorney as she ate with her left hand and wrote with her right. I wonder.... Does she care about this case? The Doleses? "What would your opening couple of paragraphs be?"
Blue eyes glanced up from the legal pad. "Hmm...along the same lines as yours. I...I'd expand a little on the hook before I got to the facts. This case is...we're going to be asking a group of men and women who.... Jeffrey, don't forget to call Laney to get the mock jury trial and focus groups set up in about a month and a half. Sorry, Syd. The ultimate question is will a jury believe what we're telling them. First impressions are very important. The opening statement...it has to be something they relate to. You've got to intertwine the facts with the legal crap without actually looking like you're doing it. Plus, you need to make sure that you can prove everything that you tell them so you can stand up at the end of the trial and say, 'Remember what I told you in the beginning. Well, we proved that. Now give us our verdict.'"
"So how would you do it? How would you start?"
Evin leaned back in her chair, the salad forgotten, and looked at the list of names on the whiteboard. What would I say? She rose and strode to the center of the room and turned.
The law student felt a tingle race down her spine. How does she do that? In the instant it had taken Evin to walk across the room and turn, the cobra had been let loose. Blue eyes glinted at her as a charming smile graced Evin's face.
"Good afternoon." Her low rich voice swept across the room. "I am Evin Moran and I represent the plaintiffs in this matter, William and Emma Dolese. They own a sugar cane farm just north of Hahnville. That farm...it's their home...their livelihood...where they raise their children. Buying that farm fulfilled their dream. And those people, the defendants, conspired to take their home away from them."
"It's a story as old as time...one man coveting what another has. Why did the defendants want the land? They're rich, powerful people who hold a license to operate a gambling casino. That land the Doleses live on...raise their family on...make their living off of...is right in the middle of where the defendants wanted to build the casino. The defendants first tried to buy the land from Willie and Emma, but they refused to sell. It was their dream...their home, after all. They have a right to hold on to their dream."
"It should have ended then. The defendants should have taken no for an answer. They should have found another place for their casino. But they didn't."
Evin stopped and the cobra disappeared. "This is where we're going to run into our first problem. Right about now, each juror's wondering why these idiots didn't just go buy another piece of land. We need to come up with a believable explanation to answer that question."
"Maybe they are just idiots," Jeffrey offered.
"That'd be a hard sell to a jury. You're talking about savvy businessmen...Board of Director types. I don't doubt that they'd consider breaking a couple of minor laws if they thought that was the easy way out," Evin countered. "But hiring someone proficient in explosives? Execution-style murders? Idiots don't do that."
A small shudder worked its way through her body. Murder. I can't comprehend wanting something that badly to take someone's life. It seems like this is all a nightmare sometimes...that it's not really happening. And the pieces...some of this just doesn't fit together. "What I don't understand is the time frame." Sydney got up and walked over to the timeline on one of the whiteboards. "Hynes bought the note from the bank in March of 1997. Why did they do that then wait so long to offer to buy Willie's land?" She walked to the coffee table and searched through a stack of documents. "The gambling license was approved in December of 1996. I...if I were them, I'd want to make sure that I had that casino up and running as fast as I could in order to recoup my investment. But they don't make an offer to Willie and Emma for a year and a half? Why?"
Evin felt the irritation start to build. I hate questions I don't know the answers to. "That's why there's discovery, Syd. We'll file Interrogatories and Requests for Production and take depositions of everybody we possibly can to get the answers." And hope like hell we come up with something plausible.
"What predicate offenses are you going to use from the RICO statute?" Andrew asked.
"As many as I can." Evin walked back to her chair and dropped into it, reaching for her fork and taking a bite of salad. "Murder, mail fraud, wire fraud, retaliation against a witness...whatever I can come up with. Let's just hope we can find enough evidence to prove at least two of them."
Jeffrey looked at her blankly. "Retaliation against a witness?"
"Angela Battiste was our witness. Someone murdered her. I'd call that retaliation." Evin took another bite of salad. "Too bad they can't charge Gator with robbery."
"Why would it be good if he was charged with robbery?"
Blue eyes glared at the secretary. All these damn questions. He's been talking to Sydney too much. They really were so much easier to handle before. "The statutes...it's called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The first section lists a number of federal statutes as well as several offenses that are chargeable under state law. If you violate one of these, and you do it for financial gain...that constitutes a racketeering activity. If you violate two or more of them, that's a pattern of racketeering activity. The next section basically says, at least as it applies to this case, that you can't conduct a business' activities using a pattern of racketeering activity nor can you conspire to do so. Robbery's one of the state offenses that could be a racketeering activity."
"That makes sense," Jeffrey commented. Well, I'm in the inner sanctum. Might as well take advantage of it. "Why are you suing all those people?"
"Because they pissed me off," the attorney snapped.
Sydney settled herself back in her chair. Uh oh. Someone's getting a little cranky. Let's see if I can answer this. The easy ones first. "John and Jane Doe and ABC and XYZ are unknown parties. They're named in case we discover other defendants then we can substitute them." She glanced at Evin. The top of a dark head was all that she saw as Evin's head was bent forward, her eyes fixed on the legal pad. "DeLisle, Farrington and Gardener are board members of Hynes and they own DFG Holdings. Stevens is a state representative. Linda Stevens is his wife and the niece of Farrington. Laborde is the guy who broke into the clinic. You know the rest of them."
"As the theory goes, DeLisle, Farrington and Gardener, through Farrington's niece, Linda, had Stevens use his influence to get them a gambling license. For some reason, they needed the land that Hynes previously owned to build the casino. Those papers Andrew found confirm their plans to build the casino on that land. They used their positions with Hynes to reacquire almost all of it, along with a little help from someone, possibly Laborde, who vandalized property and equipment, but ran into problems when the Doleses wouldn't sell. So they come up with a scheme to force the Doleses into foreclosure and involve Angela Battiste. They hire Pratt, who is sleeping with Stevens, and Harwood...."
Jeffrey interrupted. "Linda or Steve?"
"She's sleeping with Steve," Sydney clarified.
"Girl," he said with a flip of his hand. "And people talk about dyke drama and fag fits. These straight people...."
"Hey," Andrew protested. "I'm straight."
Jeffrey looked him up and down. "We forgive you."
"Can I finish my explanation?"
"Sorry, go ahead, Miss Thing," the secretary offered with an apologetic look and batting eyelashes.
"They hired Pratt and Harwood, got the case put in front of Keller somehow and think they are home free. But then Evin gets involved and Andrew finds out about Keller's ties to Hynes and they get worried. They hire someone to kill Angela Battiste, because that's the only witness that can hurt them. What they did constituted racketeering activities under RICO. And the companies, Hynes and DFG Holdings, they were the vehicles that they used to conduct those activities." Another glance at her lover confirmed that the attorney was busily writing away on her legal pad. Guess I must be right, because she didn't correct me. "And here we sit." One of whom doesn't seem too happy. It was hard to see as Evin's long hair obscured part of her face, but Sydney was pretty sure she could make out a scowl plastered on it.
The law student jumped slightly as Evin spoke. "Uh, yeah."
"Then finish your opening statement." And then I'll be really happy because I can see how many more holes we have to fill. This case ought to be renamed "The Titanic versus The Idiots" with Evin "Ego from Hell" Moran as the "Can she possibly fuck this up any worse than she already has?" plaintiffs' counsel.
"Okay." She drew the word out as she looked at her lover. Evin didn't look up from the pad.
Sydney stood and went back to the center of the room. "Let's see. Where was I?"
"They were served with the suit," the attorney reminded her.
"Yeah, okay, thanks." She settled herself and drew a deep breath. "After Willie and Emma were served with the lawsuit, they came to see me."
Okay, Moran, be civil. Syd didn't do anything and she doesn't deserve this crap from you. With a sigh, Evin dropped her pen and settled back in her chair, giving the law student her full attention.
"Like Willie and Emma, I never dreamed that a plot existed to take their land away from them. I listened to their story and assured them that I would look into the matter. A simple misunderstanding, I thought, something that would be cleared up in no time. I was wrong. I did what we lawyers do. I responded to the lawsuit by requesting additional time to answer. The court granted it. I called the lawyers handling the case for Hynes, Dorinda Pratt and Scott Harwood. Ms. Pratt and Mr. Harwood maintained the party line - Willie and Emma Dolese didn't pay their mortgage. Hynes was foreclosing. Sorry, but your clients should have lived up to the terms of the note. They did, I argued back. Check with Angela Battiste. She knows Hynes received the payments. They assured me that they would. I asked them to get back to me. They said they would. I hung up the phone with all the confidence in the world that this misunderstanding would soon be resolved."
"The vandalism escalated while we waited for Ms. Pratt and Mr. Harwood to get back to us. Sugar was poured into gas tanks. Equipment was stolen. The gunshots in the middle of the night were no longer confined to the mailbox, but started hitting closer to home. The deadline to file the answer to Hynes' lawsuit approached. I placed several calls to both of the defendants and was told that they hadn't had time yet to check with Ms. Battiste. I assumed that they were making me go through the motions. It is, after all, what we lawyers do...play the legal game. I felt confident that we would resolve the misunderstanding after I filed the answer, so I filed it and we waited."
"I checked again several times with the defendants. Each time, I heard the same story...'We haven't had time to talk to Ms. Battiste.' I finally placed a call to Hynes and asked for Ms. Battiste and was told that she no longer worked for Hynes."
An uneasy sentience had rippled through Evin's subconscious as Sydney spoke, moving slowly at first, and then gaining momentum. It finally burst into her conscious mind, hitting Evin like a two-ton cement block that fell from thirty thousand feet. Sydney's going to have to be a witness in this.Evin stared at Sydney. She's a witness. Oh God. She could see the law student's mouth moving but the sounds didn't make an impression. Jesus Christ, I'm sleeping with a witness. Fuck!
Sydney stopped speaking when a glance at her lover revealed an ashen face. "Honey, are you okay?" There was no response. "Evin?"
"Yeah, Syd," she finally answered, visibly straightening and letting the mask slide firmly into place.
The law student crossed the room quickly and knelt next to her lover's chair. "What's wrong?"
Everything. "I...Andrew, Jeffrey...could...forget it. Syd, sit down. Y'all finish your lunch...whatever. I'll be back." She was out of the door before anyone had a chance to say anything.
Three utterly baffled people stared at the door for long seconds.
Sydney's eyes eventually moved from the doorway to Andrew and Jeffrey, observing the startled looks on their faces. Her shoulders twitched as she heard the slam of a door.
"What the hell was that about?" the investigator asked.
"I...don't know." Is she sick? She...looked sick.
"She looked like she'd seen a ghost," Jeffrey observed.
"I thought she was about to pass out," Andrew said. "But she took off so fast.... I don't think that was it."
Jeffrey's description had been right on target as far as the redhead was concerned. She did look like she had seen a ghost. "I...She...." Sydney stopped. What is going on with her?
"I'm going to find her." Sydney bolted out the door after her.
"You know, Jeffrey. Sometimes, I wonder if any of us are going to survive this case."
The secretary sighed and nodded his head. "Tell me about it. Those two...they belong together. Evin's so different...with her. And Sydney, she's...she's something else. Sometimes, I wonder what planet she beamed in from to be able to handle Evin. I really didn't think that it was humanly possible, but she does it. That lunch thing today.... Did you see the look on Evin's face when I handed her that food? But she didn't say a word to Sydney. She just ate it."
"They're a pair, all right," Andrew agreed. "I wonder if they're going to practice together when Sydney graduates."
"If they do, I wonder if we'd survive it."
"That's an even better question, P.I."
The steel door to the stairway slammed into the wall with a resounding bang as Evin went through the doorway. Jesus fucking Christ, Moran. What the fuck is wrong with you? You're so God damned busy with your head buried between her legs that you don't even see this? This is why you never did this before. You can't handle it. You're such an idiot. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! How can you be so stupid!
Her descent down the stairs was rapid as the anger built. You have single-handedly managed to go out and do what everybody else has been trying to do. You've screwed the Doleses royally. No, not just royally. Gloriously. Magnificently. Resplendently. Superbly. And all because you couldn't keep your dick in your pants. 'You don't have one of those,' the little voice reminded.According to some people, I do. 'I thought it was b....' Shut the fuck up. It was a figure of speech.
You're sleeping with a damn witness. Have you lost your mind? Do you need to check into that place with the men in their little white coats? That must be it. There is no other explanation. 'I think....' Shut up. At least my theory would explain you. God, how could you have not seen this coming?
The one...the only case in how many years that...means something...to Syd...to the Doleses...your chance.... 'Your chance for what?' Nothing...absolutely nothing. There are no second chances. Not then. Not now. Not ever. What kind of fucking dream world have you been living in?
She found herself standing in the parking garage as a pounding in her head made itself known. Aw, Christ, Moran, her mind groaned. How could you get yourself in this position? You'd better hope your malpractice insurance is paid up. Walking over to her car, she leaned against the trunk, shaking her head in disbelief. You are such a legend in your own mind. Too bad legend has nothing to do with reality.
This is great. Just great. How am I gonna get us all out of this one? How good is this gonna look when we get to trial and I call Sydney as a witness and my first question is, "Oh, and by the way, Ms. Parker, besides being the law student who handled the Dolese case, have you been, oh, say, sleeping with anybody that the jury should know about? Like me, maybe? And, besides the fact that we've been having sex for the last couple of months, can you think of any other reason your testimony might be favorable to the plaintiffs?"
A fist slammed into the trunk in frustration. 'You're going to dent your car,' the little voice quietly observed. Shut up. 'Are you finished pitching your little fit?' It's not a fit. I fucked up. Syd's the only one who can testify about how Pratt and Harwood stalled in talking to Battiste. I can't call Battiste. She's dead. Remember? Any two-bit, hack lawyer could have seen this coming. And I'm supposed to be good. Better than good.
'Ah, I see. So this is about your ego.' No, it's not. This is about making a critical mistake that could, quite possibly, cost my clients this case...their land, their home, their dream. Remember the little speech? This is about breaking rules that I've never broken. My judgment's been clouded...hell, blinded...because I got personally involved in this. You think I made up that crap about personal involvement to justify my inability to care about shit? I can't do it. I've never been able to do it. I can't balance things. Look at my life. You know it very well. Have I ever been able to balance things?
The little voice was silent. Cat got your tongue? 'That doesn't mean you shouldn't have fallen in love.' I...it doesn't matter what I want. Rule number one, remember. Whatever it takes. I didn't do that. I cou...didn't stop myself. And I should have. 'You were going to say couldn't.' No, I wasn't. 'You're pitiful.' At last! Something we agree on.
And now I get to tell Sydney what a colossal fuck-up this is and what our options are. She's going to be absolutely thrilled with this...with me. 'Oh, now I see what this is about.' Really? Then would you mind cluing me in? 'Your insecurities.' Yeah, right, she mentally snorted. 'For being so smart, you really can be downright clueless. Why are you so angry about all of this? You've made mistakes before. You deal with them and move on. But you think that if you show anything less than perfection, Sydney's not gonna love you...want you. That's not giving her a lot of credit. Do you think so little of her that you actually believe that she'd walk out on you because of this?' Shut up.
She pushed off the car and started to pace, her hands balled tightly into fists. She's going to have to testify. No matter what. Whether this case gets to trial or in the criminal trial if the Feds take over. A grimace crossed her face as the pounding in her head increased. I should have just filed the damn bankruptcy in the beginning. 'You probably wouldn't have seen Sydney anymore.' Shut up. Doesn't matter. She shouldn't have to go through that. It's...that's....
Her pacing halted, she wrapped herself up in her arms and squeezed, trying to stop the memories that threatened. 'It won't be like that for her. It's not the same.' How do you know that? You can't be sure. That...I don't want to think about that any more. I should have just filed the bankruptcy. Whatever happens...has happened, it's my fault. And it's not going to be anything good. It never is. You go off half-cocked, looking for someone to pay, and you get it thrown back in your face. Only it's not just you now. Sydney's going to pay for your mistakes. You never once thought of that, did you? Sydney doesn't deserve that and you certainly don't deserve her. Face it, you just don't have what it takes to be in a loving, caring relationship. Those are skills you never had and apparently will never be able to acquire.
Her body ungracefully slouched back against the trunk of the car, her arms still wrapped tightly around her chest. 'Well, one thing can be said for you,' the little voice interjected. I don't even want to know. 'When you do things, wrong or right, you certainly do go all the way.' Please...shut up.