THE COUNSELORS

By Justus E. Taylor

3,890 Words

Copyright 1989 by Justus E. Taylor

space"You don't have to worry about it, Bill, believe me. I am gonna ask for a three week adjournment anyway, 'cause of all the stuff I have pending. I am overloaded. I'll ask the judge to give us something in November. OK? OK?"

space Ralph Shields laughed to himself as he hung up the phone. "Jane! Prepare a set of findings for a default judgment on that Carter case, "he called out to his secretary, whose desk flanked the doorway to his small office. "I bet I'll have the marshal sell everything in that jewelry store before that asshole Bill has his first drink in Hawaii," he added, as he sucked deeply on the half-gone cigarette between his fingers. "Get Ray Jones on the phone!" he called out again."I have to arrange with him to get together for four or five more conferences on the Zoin divorce matter. "Within a few minutes Jane signaled on the phone, "I have Mr. Jones on the line Mr. Shields.

space "Hello? Ray? I think we should get together four or five more times on the Zoin matter. Maybe four hours for each shot. Reviewing assets and negotiating visitation, argumentative crap like that. My guy has enough money to cover us both at a coupla-hundred an hour. We've got to eat up the clock now 'cause there ain't gonna be much trial work on this one. She told you to move it? Well, listen at little Miss Hot Pants. She's gonna get her ass caught in a motel yet! She could blow the whole game right outta the water...yeah, that's right. So sit on her head for...say...another dozen hours anyway; OK? OK. Bye."

space"Jane, I'll be over at the office of assistant d.a. Thompson for the rest of the afternoon. If Robles calls, tell him I am trying to get Thompson to knock it down to assault third, but it's tough. Tell him that if I win my fee'll be five hundred more than I said 'cause It'll have to take care of Thompson. Don't tell Robles, but Thompson just wants four tickets for a Saturday night; something on Broadway with music. Pick up something on your credit card tomorrow, so I can tell him they're on the way. I'll reimburse you in the same check as for your back pay. Sorry, I got to rush. OK? OK.

spaceRalph felt that the luckiest thing that had happened to him all day was that empty cab sitting at the curb at the moment he exited his Park Row office building. As he moved along the FDR drive he began to feel the smoldering excitement, the tingling anticipation at the prospect of being with Tina. He would have a whole hour in which to dress up in short pants, cower in her bedroom corners, hide under her bed, crawl from room to room, all of this while she followed and tormented his buttocks with a leather belt. Finally, in a wave and shudder of tears and pain he would find his fulfilling release.

spacePatsy Shields had waited through several days of brooding desperation for her appointment with the marriage counselor. She needed no coaxing before she gushed her repressed anger and fears onto her attentive listener. She explained that through seven years of marriage to Ralph she had felt a sensation of riding a slowly descending elevator into hell. She had felt a rising tide of abuse at each succeeding depth. As newlyweds who had grand illusions about his start-up law practice and her interior decorator aspirations, they had seen the dreams blown apart when she got pregnant in the second year of the wedlock. She believed that Ralph had misled her about the prospect of becoming parents because he had been indifferent on the many occasions when they took chances on her getting pregnant.

space"What happened after the child was born? Boy or girl, by the way?"

space"Boy, who looks like Ralph. Things then got much worse, or at least seemed to, maybe because I had hoped that the child would be a distraction that would smooth things out between us. But that was when he began hitting me. First only slaps, but later he added body punches and he even will slam me against a wall or the furniture if Dan, that's our son's name, is in the room. I think he became jealous of his own son, like he had to compete with him for attention.

space"Do you still work?"

space"Yes, I went back to work when Dan was six months old. We have some money problems, but we manage to stay just above water. Ralph demands most of my salary and he pays the bills. Although, I am beginning to worry that Dan should have more varied stimulation, such as starting music lessons a more expensive day care center or perhaps even an elementary level computer. But I am not sure how much money there is.

space"You knew, of course, that I would ask about your sex life, with each other or otherwise. How goes it?"

space"It doesn't really go, even though I rarely want to push it. Frankly, I am not to anxious for the past several years. I deeply resent his persecuting me and I especially resent his ignoring our child, even if it was a mistake. Dan is still our son and how many of us were all mistakes, when you come right down to it? I switched to the pill and have stayed on it, but if we banked a hundred dollars for every time we do it, we'd still be broke. Other men look good to me but I don't want to make things worse with the complications of an affair. I simply wish that Ralph could start loving me again, the way it was before we got married, before it's too late and I hate him too much.

space"Does he have somebody else?"

space"I don't think so. It's not like he stays out nights or disappears and comes home with perfume or lipstick on his clothes, or anything. He does spend too much money, but I've never seen any evidence of his buying presents for anybody. Nothing like that.

space"Have you checked carefully?"

space"Yes, pretty carefully."

space"Then candidly, it sounds like something is tormenting him, and it may not be anything that you do. Does he ever try to talk to you about things that are bothering him; his law practice perhaps or some fear that he has. Is he sickly?"

space"No, he's very healthy, but I am very sure I know what bothers him. That's probably why I've stuck it out this long. I've tried many times to get him to go to a psychiatrist for help but he has always refused. You see, his father and mother were divorced when he was thirteen. He has had almost no contact with his father whatsoever. Then he had a horrible experience when he was seventeen.

space"What was that?"

space"He used to have certain things he was supposed to do around the house, sort of regular chores. Just like all teenagers, he used to duck out on as much work as he could, so he could hang out with his school buddies. He told me these things before we were married. I think those were the only times we really talked, about the things that really bothered us, I mean.

space"Go on with the story please."

space"Right. Ralph was supposed to walk the dog every evening at six-thirty. It was wintertime and so it was already very dark by six-thirty. Ralph was out with some of his friends at a bowling alley, team bowling you know, and didn't want to break up the game to go home and walk the dog. So he didn't. That meant that his mother had to do it when she got home from work at seven. The dog was having a fit by that time. So, she took the dog out along the street, even though it was icy along the gutters. The witness said the dog pulled on the leash, made her slip on the ice and she fell into the path of an oncoming car. She was killed and the driver kept on going. Nobody got the license plate number, and he was never caught. I've known for a long time that Ralph is carrying around a lot of guilt about it."

space"I think your husband is also carrying around a lot of hatred for that driver. Who knows whether she could have been saved if he had stopped and taken her to a hospital. Or it would have helped if he had at least expressed some remorse, regret, something! Since it actually wasn't the driver's fault, not stopping seems even more heartless. The truth probably was that the driver was scared out of his mind by the impact...too scared to stop. I'd bet he's been living with a tremendous burden of guilt himself! Be that as it may, you're a wife who seems to know pretty well what the problems are and what they stem from. I am at a loss as to why you're here."

space"I guess it's for reassurance; that I'd be doing the right thing if I left Ralph. That is, sort of for his own sake; force him to seek help or live alone. Time is passing and things are getting worse, if they are changing at all. I think he'll start beating Dan soon if I don't do something. It's been seven years and life is passing us by!"

spaceThe tears, which had been kept as little droplets at the corners of her eyes, now flowed down her cheeks as she rummaged in her purse for a tissue.

space"I think we may need another couple of hours together, Mrs. Shields, to make sure that you have made me aware of all the facts, but as of now I suspect that your solution is where we are going to wind up. That is, without some miracle on your husband's part."

spaceRalph slammed the door intentionally as he entered the foyer of his home. "Is that you Ralph?" Patsy called out from the family room. "You're kind of late, she added as he was entering the room, "It's seven-thirty already."

space"And what's the big deal about that? I was negotiating with a guy from the d.a.'s office, had to take him out for a drink."

space"I figured something like that. I called your office about four-forty-five, and Jane said you had gone to the d.a.'s office."

spaceGlaring suspiciously, Ralph-quizzed, "Why'd you call? What'd you want?"

spaceMaintaining even tones, Patsy searched for common ground that might make the evening bearable. "I just wanted to say hello and ask how you were," and she smiled tolerantly.

space"I was fine," Ralph retorted, "Perhaps you were worried about whether I was anywhere around watching you! What were you doing? Who were you with? Were you at work all afternoon?"

space"Yes, I was at work all afternoon," Patsy droned in monotone, "and I don't do anything that I need to hide from you. Dan is playing in his room. Maybe you want to look in on him before we have dinner, huh? He has eaten already."

space"No that's OK, let's eat. It's possible I'll see him before he goes to bed. You can put the quiz show on while we eat. I don't feel like any talking."

spaceAt nine the next morning Jane was at a loss to decide why her boss always came to work at seven-thirty a. m. Was it because he was hyper, or because he was anxious to get away from home? She sensed that he didn't have the best of marriages, but she had been with him only a few months, so she hadntt learned any details. She had already tossed in her "Good morning Mr. Shields," and barely settled herself at her desk when the large wooden door of the law offices swung inward to admit a new client.

space"My name is Vincent Sorini," said a large, dark complexioned man in his early forties."A coupla people recommended that I come to see Mr. Shields. Is he here?"

space"Just a moment." This was followed by an announcement made while leaning her shoulders into Ralph's small room, and then, "You can go right in."

space"Have a seat Mr. Sorini. What can I do for you?"

space"I've been told by several people in the legal business that you're the flexible type of lawyer I am gonna need in a few days."

space"Why are you gonna need a lawyer, and what do you mean by flexible?"

space"Flexible means that you'll work with a person, be cooperative, go along so to speak, if you're gettin' your fee. I think you understand, don't you?"

space"Perhaps. Why are you gonna need a lawyer?"

space"My business partner had a bad accident outside his home the other night. It seems some driver, maybe a drunk, ran over him and kept going. I think the cops think I did it, to get the money from a two-hundred thousand life insurance policy he had in favor of our business. We each had them. But since things have been going bad for our dress business, and since I have a pretty bad rap sheet, they're gonna try an pin it on me sooner or later. You understand how that goes."

space"What evidence is there to tie you to the crime or accident?"

space"None, really! But they'll claim there is. You see, my car was stolen the day before the hit-and-run, and I reported it to the cops the same day it was stolen. Then, two days after the accident, they find my car parked on Columbus Avenue and Ninety-Eighth street with a damaged right front fender and headlights, also a little chrome knocked off. The newspapers said the cops figured my partner was hit by the right front bumper of the car that got him. But so what? If it was my car then the guy who stole it had the accident, not me!"

space"Do you have an alibi for the time it happened?"

space"Before you go on, tell me how much you're gonna charge me."

space"That depends a lot on your answer to my last question, that and the flexibility you mentioned."

space"Well, all right, I guess that's fair, My partner died in Patchogue Long Island. I was in White Plains, in Westchester, a good two hours away by car."

space"Why were you in White Plains?"

space"You see, after my car was stolen I rented this Lincoln Mark Seven and I wanted to let it out on the road; see what it could do. I live in Mamaroneck so I went for a little ride up to White Plains."

space"Fine, but there's the usual question. Did you see anyone you knew? Someone who could testify that you were there?"

space"No, but I can do just as well. I went into the Macy's up there and bought two movie tapes. Here they are, "To Hell and Back," with Audie Murphy and "From Here to Eternity!" Sorini was smiling now. "Maybe you've seen them."

space"You know as well as I that you could have bought them at any time."

space"No, you see, I have the register receipt right here, and it says the date and time; the same time as the hit-and-run, two hours away."

space"Not bad, but you could have had someone else go to the store. Was anybody at home when you left to go to White Plains?"

space"No, my wife is in Florida for several months, every year this time. She hates the cold and snow, so I let her go. Anyway, after fifteen years of marriage what's the difference? So if she wasn't in Florida and I had her say she was with me all evening, would that truly make a big difference? She is my wife, and I do take good care of her."

space"I guess not a really big difference. You're right. It's gonna cost you twenty-five thousand, more or less, with a retainer of five thousand the day you get arrested and the other twenty the day the trial starts, Can you handle that?"

space"Sure counselor, I can handle it. And I can see already I have the right man. Ha! You knew right away I could've sent somebody to do the film shopping for me. Smart, I like that. But remember counselor, we only have to cause a reasonable doubt. So, let's not worry about how it was done, let's just convince the jury when the time comes. Right?"

space"Let me have the film and the register receipt for safekeeping. I'll put them in a safety deposit box till we need them. In the meantime you just go about your regular business and call me right away when you get arrested."

spaceRalph was pleased with the prospect of the big fee, and that evening he left the office visualizing a new car in his driveway. Perhaps he would even be able to bring all the past due bills current and still have enough left over for several sessions with Tina! He usually avoided judging his clients, merely being scornful of all of them as his rightful prey. In the case of Sorini, however, he found himself annoyed. He attributed it to Sorini's advance certainty that he could easily be bought, and probably for an amount of money that meant a lot to him but little to Sorini. He began to regret not having said his fee would be fifty-thousand, especially since there was the two-hundred thousand insurance. But he knew his kind of lawyer could be bought anywhere, for half that. He couldn't help feeling resigned, resentful and pleased, all at the same time.

spaceAs Ralph expected, he did receive a call from Sorini two days later. It was from a police precinct in mid-Manhattan, where he had been taken after being arrested. As a matter of strategy nothing was to be told to the police about the alibi, since both Ralph and his client agreed that it would not have prevented his indictment and trial, in any case. Bail was easily arranged as Sorini had anticipated the cost, so that he was free for a month-and-a-half prior to the start of his trial for murder as a class A felony. The possible sentence was life imprisonment.

spaceThe defendant properly appeared on the morning of the first day of the trial and gave Ralph the further twenty thousand of his fee. Sorini remained in good spirits, even while the prosecution's case was being strongly built. Forensic evidence was introduced directly linking the Sorini stolen car to the impact with the victim by means of blood samples, hair and bits of cloth recovered from the broken glass and metal parts of the car's right front fender. The elements of motive means and opportunity were carefully laid out, but, of course, it was in the absence of Sorini's alibi, of which the prosecution still had not heard a word.

spaceThe prosecutor was able to rest his case by the end of the first day of trial, and on the morning of the second day it was clear that the defense would consist entirely of the testimony of Sorini, along with a prearranged stipulation between prosecution and defense that Sorini did in fact report his car stolen the day before the alleged murder.

spaceRalph knew that Sorini's prior criminal record, consisting of several convictions for fraud, larceny and robbery, might be exposed to the jury if he allowed his client to testify as to anything except his alibi and his denial that he had killed the deceased. He also could not have any character witnesses, or even himself testify that he was an honest person who always told the truth, or the prosecutor could introduce his criminal record as evidence against him.

spaceHaving called Sorini to the witness stand, Ralph was surgically precise with his questions: "Mr. Sorini, did you kill or in any way harm your former partner Joseph Briscoll?"

space"No, I did not," replied Sorini, speaking clearly and looking directly at the jurors.

space"Mr. Sorini the prosecution has alleged that Mr. Briscoll was killed by a hit-and-run driver at approximately eight-ten p.m. on the night of February twelfth of this year. Where were you at eight-ten p.m. on February twelfth?"

space"At about seven-thirty I left my house in Mamaroneck and drove for about twenty minutes to White Plains, where I did some shopping in Macy's."

space"How long did you remain at Macy's?"

space"About a half hour."

space"So that at eight-ten p.m. you were in Macy's in White Plains, at least a two hour drive from the scene of the alleged murder. Is that correct?"

space"Yes, that is correct."

space"Did you meet anyone you knew during this time, or have you any other way of proving you were at Macy's?"

space"Yes, I bought two films and the cash register receipt shows that I bought them at exactly eight-twenty p.m.

space"Fine, Mr. Sorini. Now would you please let me have that receipt so that I can have it admitted into evidence."

space"What? You already have it! Didn't you bring it?"

space"You're mistaken, Mr. Sorini, you never entrusted anything like that to me. As a matter of fact you never said you had any proof of where you were that night. Look through your pockets. You must be having a memory lapse, Check carefully!"

space"Hey, now, wait a minute, don't bullshit me! You know you have the tapes I bought and the receipt. Cut the crap!"

spaceThe prosecutor considered objecting that the defense was impeaching its own witness, but he then settled back in his seat, satisfied that there was no way to improve on the way that things were going. Sorini was now sweating profusely and had begun to look totally bewildered. He wondered whether this was some kind of clever trick that Ralph was using, some tactic that could assure his acquittal. He decided that he had better let Ralph play it out since he was helpless without the receipt anyway. Ralph was professional and remote as he continually asked Sorini to check through his clothing or try to recall where he may have hidden the receipt. He also continually reminded him loudly of the importance of the receipt to proving his innocence.

spaceIt was no surprise to Ralph that the jury found his client guilty, and his bail was revoked pending the sentencing. Ralph was comfortable in the certainty that Sorini would get life, probably without a chance for parole. In any event he felt he would be secure for at least twenty-five years.

spaceRalph found himself smiling. He felt renewed the following day, as if the world had all changed. It suddenly seemed like a place where he could find acceptance. By the time that he was leaving his office at six that evening, he was surprised that he felt sexy. He bought some mixed roses and carnations for Patsy and a set of electric trains for Dan. The subway to Brooklyn was very crowded, but he didn't feel the usual hatred for those around him. He melted into the crowd for the first time since his mother's death, as he whispered to himself, "So who's perfect?"

End



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