Gideon’s Children

Chapter 1

It was a hot, humid morning in late July, 1968, when I turned off the Harbor Freeway and drove in an easterly direction toward the city of Solina. After several miles I entered its outskirts, then slowed the car to take my first glimpse of what had been described to me as the hellhole of Southern California. And while at that particular moment I did not have in mind a precise conception of what hell looked like, what I saw slowly stirred my imagination in that direction.

For several blocks, I passed through a business district composed of a myriad of differently sized shop buildings, often separated at random by a church. They were, for the most part, old and dilapidated. Broken windows, some of which had been boarded over, appeared frequently, and several of the largest storerooms, their interiors having been entirely gutted by fire, were without roofs and stood hollow with the blackened remnants of their charred intestines bared to the rising sun. Occasionally, a fast-food restaurant, housed in a clean and brightly colored habitat, would gleam into view and contrast garishly against the surrounding forest of lonely-looking companions. And outside, beneath this grotesquely configured jigsaw puzzle, the sidewalks lay dirty with fragments of glass from broken bottles, scraps of torn paper, and empty beer cans.

Feeling somewhat more comfortable when I reached Hester Street and turned north into a residential area, after three short blocks brought me to the courthouse, I parked, then eased my lean, five-foot-nine frame out onto the pavement. For a moment, I just stared at the large, off-white frame-and-stucco structure. Then, after noting that the gold letters which spelled out JUSTICE high over the entrance were chipped and faded, I turned and walked across the street in search of the Public Defender’s Office. Finding it open, I entered and approached a counter framed by steel bars that rose to the ceiling every four inches or so from its top. Setting down my briefbag, I peered in through the small window in the center, and as I did so, a young woman carrying a cup of coffee entered the room from behind the counter and greeted me.

“Good morning. Can I help you?”

“Yes, thanks. My name’s Matt Harris, and I’m supposed to report here for work.”

She shrugged her shoulders slightly and started to smile. “So you’re the new man, huh. Well, welcome to Solina, Mr. Harris, and may the good Lord help you!” bounced her response through a now widening smile, causing me to nervously return it. “I’m Marilyn Boyd, the secretary here. You want some coffee?”

I don’t drink coffee, but answered yes anyway.

“Well, c’mon around here, and I’ll get you some.” Nodding, I passed through a door to my left, then slipped into the offered chair. “Cream or sugar?”

“Both, please,” squeezed off my tongue distractedly, my eyes now enjoying a full view and instantly inhaling her stunning beauty. Her hair was styled in a medium Afro, which further softened the delicately sculpted cheekbones and nose lying beneath large, luminous eyes, and when she smiled, two rows of miniature ivory pillars shined brightly to accentuate the smooth, chocolate-brown skin. Dressed in a white silky blouse and a pair of tailored navy-blue, bell-bottom slacks, she was simply a portrait of loveliness, flashed a thought as she handed me a mug, then a question.

“Been with the PD long?”

“Well, almost three months now.”

“Three months? … Boy, you must be good!”

“Why? What do you mean?”

“Well, Jordan’s a crazy man, but he knows his deputies, and he wouldn’t have sent you to a place like this unless there were some real smarts behind those soft brown eyes!”

The oh-my-God tone of her voice added to the uneasy feeling I had harbored since learning of my assignment to Solina several days ago, and I reached into my coat pocket for my pipe and the comfort it represented.

“Say, would you like a tour of the place?” she offered as I lit up. Nodding yes, I arose and followed her down a narrow corridor, slowly passing partitions that formed several small offices. Just over a minute into our look-see, the back door flew open and two men burst inside, boisterously laughing and teasing one another. Stopping abruptly when they spotted us, one broke off and entered an office to his left, allowing Marilyn to then introduce me to the “boss of this here place, George Meyerstein.” And years later, I could still recall every detail of that first meeting. Standing there in that narrow corridor feeling awkward, I stuck out my hand and was greeted with a firm handshake and a staccato “Glad you’re here. C’mon into my office and we’ll rap for a few minutes.” Then, quickly covering the few feet into his cubicle, George launched into an explanation of how it was hell to be a Public Defender in Solina before I was fully seated opposite his desk.

“What you’ve got to understand for openers, Matt, is that there’s a war going on here—a regular, goddamn war!” he shot out, a slight New England accent punctuating his rapid-fire delivery as I carefully studied him. About thirty, five-foot-ten, thick-framed and heavily muscled, he was dressed in a gray, double-breasted, pin-striped suit that he wore with a faded orange shirt and a thin, outdated, orange-and-green striped tie. His rust-colored hair, curly and uncombed, hung down loosely over his narrow forehead, where below, his chiseled but strong facial features left him just short of being pretty, and radiated forth an energy that could be felt with a single glance. In sync with this vitality, his message arrived in torrents, the words tumbling off his tongue in electric tones as if there would never be enough time to fully discharge them. And as he continued, he twisted and turned in his swivel chair and intermittently threw his hands into the air or slammed them down onto the desktop to accentuate the point he was making.

“Now, when I arrived here a few months ago, the pigs owned this place and they still think they do. The court calendar is absolutely jammed. You’ve never seen so many cases, and the judges don’t want to work to begin with, so they deal deal deal!” rattled the machine gun. “Hell, the place was a regular cop-out artist’s heaven, and our office was helping by just going along with the system. But that’s all changed now. Robbie Gibbons showed up awhile back and demanded a trial. It was funny, the damn fools across the street almost forgot what one was. Why it took them an hour to find the jury interview sheets, and another one to dust them off—and to make a long story short, Robbie won the damn thing and eight more since, and now we’re all trying them and the pigs are starting to go crazy!” cascaded his conclusion, George then hesitating momentarily for oxygen, a faint smile creeping across his face as he studied mine to insure I was on board.

“But don’t get me wrong,” he picked up, satisfied by my rapt attention. “We’re not winning the war, just a few battles here and there, and damned few at that. Lose a case and you’re going to get the maximum sentence. Your client’s going to serve it all right, but you’re the one being punished for having the audacity to turn down the pigs’ deal and waste their precious time going to trial. Ohhh, you’ll love the judges here, j-u-s-t love’m!” spewed his thickening sarcasm. “Funny-man Gelman handles the arraignment court. He thinks he’s a comedian, but outside of his lousy jokes, he’s not too bad. Next is Lacy, who presides over the preliminary hearing calendar in Division Three and is the worst we’ve got, although Steiggerman’s always trying hard to take over first place. Old Lacy’s an Uncle Tom who hates blacks and shows it, while Burroughs, our other black judge, equally favors the prosecution, but at least offers-up a little heart occasionally. He does court trials, and we don’t do any anyhow, so outside of overflow Prelims we don’t see too much of him. And that,” George emphasized with a wink, “brings us to the wonderful world of jury trials, which are handled by Austin and Steiggerman. Now Austin’s the one grace-saving factor we’ve got. He doesn’t like trials lousing up his calendar, but he’ll dismiss a lot of the garbage cases and he hates sentencing people to jail. Steiggerman, on the other hand, thinks everyone should be in jail, starting with us! Ohhh, he’s a smooth talker all right, such a gentleman. But underneath, he’s all pig, mean and vicious—and smart too, which makes him even more dangerous than Lacy!” grumbled the indictment into a second’s pause, the solid fist-slam onto the desktop then instantly propelling it onward.

“And if the judges aren’t enough, we’ve got the DA’s Office to boot!” escalated frustration’s tone. “They outnumber us two to one, and file every piece of shit the cops ask them to. Which means, that if somehow you don’t wear yourself out completely fighting the cops, DAs, and judges, which you will, then for exercise you can fight your own clients, who aren’t exactly in love with us either. Hell, our predecessors here did such a good job of kiss-assing the pigs and copping out the whole world, that our image now ranks favorably only against George Wallace’s!”

For a fleeting second after George finished with another firm fist-slam, the mischievous gleam in his eyes advertised the possibility of an encore, an incubating idea abruptly foreclosed by the ring of the phone and the funneling of his attention to a more pressing problem. Both stunned and strangely amused, I just sat there listening to him jabbering about how someone couldn’t do something to his client and that he’d be over to the courthouse soon to straighten matters out. Feeling as if I had somehow fallen in with some kind of crazy man, still, I liked him and knew it on both first and second thoughts. There was something, not readily identifiable, in the enormous energy reflected in his face and the tense tones of his voice that hinted of a deep sensitivity lying just beneath the churning exterior. Something subtle, that slowly seeped its secret to the surface. A warm undercurrent cored by an essential empathy and genuine goodness that smoothed the jagged edge of my discomfort and caused me to smile to myself.

Upon concluding his conversation, George then introduced me to Ron Sindel, Leon Schwartz, and Robbie Gibbons, the remaining members of the office. I judged Sindel, a six-foot-tall, well-built fellow with handsomely set features, to be in his mid-twenties like myself. Blond and curly haired, he wore aluminum-framed glasses over his light-blue eyes and appeared the most friendly and outgoing of the group, contrasting sharply with Schwartz, who though also mid-twentyish, carried twenty pounds of excess weight on his medium-sized frame and whose finely formed facial features were clouded sad and gloomy beneath the surrounding curtain of shoulder-length black hair. I noted that even when he smiled, he still looked as if he were brooding about something, unlike Robbie Gibbons, whose amiable air and warm welcome further diminished my sense of being a stranger in a foreign land. Black and also in the vicinity of six feet in height, his impeccable dress, Ivy League–style, failed to mask the fact that he was thin almost to the point of appearing emaciated. And though his easy smile and free-flowing banter projected a youthful, carefree attitude, his graying temples hinted that his years numbered close to forty, and like George, his jet-black eyes, set deep inside his small, round face, reflected both a serious purpose and an energy seemingly without limits. For several minutes, the five of us chatted, the casual conversation bouncing round the circle before following us as we walked together across the street to the courthouse, where George entrusted me to the care of Lester Smith, the deputy I was replacing. For an hour I watched him try an armed-robbery preliminary hearing. Then I spent the remainder of the morning wandering alone up and down the crowded hallways and edging in and out of the other four courtrooms, all the while studying the endless variety of careworn faces found amongst the numerous groups of people huddled in the shadowy corridors.

After lunch, which consisted of a dried-out tuna fish sandwich that I had dutifully prepared the night before and which I ate while reading an arrest report seated at the small desk assigned to me, I returned to Division Three and tried my first Prelim in my new judicial home. It lasted about forty minutes, proceeded uneventfully, and ended like most Prelims, in a loss. My client was held to answer in Superior Court on the charge of possessing marijuana, and after the bailiff led him away, Judge Lacy inquired cordially as to whether I had ever appeared in Solina before.

“No, Your Honor. First time,” I answered.

“Well, very nice job,” flowed his compliment through a broad smile. “You certainly made the most out of very little to work with. What firm are you with?”

“Actually, Your Honor, I’m replacing Mr. Smith.”

“Ohhh … I see,” he drawled with surprise, the smile now thinning, his eyes darting to his errant clerk before returning to me. “Well, it’s good to have you with us, Mr. Harris. Do enjoy your weekend now,” he squeezed out as he departed the bench.

“You too, Your Honor,” I nodded back through the air of uneasiness which now dissolved as he disappeared into his chambers.

’Cause we’ll be seeing each other again come Monday morning, won’t we? followed a thought energized by eager anticipation, then toned down by a touch of anxiety as I walked slowly back to the office. It was empty except for Marilyn. And after we chatted for a few minutes, we closed the office together, and day one of change’s newest challenge ended.

It was slightly more than an hour’s drive from Solina to my apartment in West Los Angeles, and as the miles glided by I settled back comfortably against the seat and allowed my mind to gradually drift back over the events of the past several months. Glancing at my watch, which read five-thirty, I pictured the secretaries jabbering at one another as they scurried about closing down the offices of the Kellco Real Estate Investment Company where I used to work. Having bade farewell to the oak-paneled walls and plushly furnished surroundings of the real-estate world just eleven weeks ago, I harbored the feeling that it seemed more like eleven months as I recalled the maze of courtrooms I had wandered through those first few weeks in the PD’s Office. Unsure of myself, and uneducated in the intricacies of the criminal law, I had struggled through long, tiring days, with only the butterflies that lived in my stomach from dawn till midnight for company. Slowly, however, with ever-increasing effort, I had learned what a preliminary hearing was all about and begun to confidently grasp the various complex aspects of courtroom procedure. I had even managed to relax a bit, when a small, yellow piece of paper entitled Memorandum had appeared in my office mailbox and notified me of my transfer to the Solina Judicial District. Now, after a brief but eye-opening glimpse, I had the distinct impression that I had been extended an invitation to a war being conducted by a group of likable maniacs against an enemy which to them was clearly defined, but which to me was as hazy as the smoke that billowed forth from my pipe and vanished quickly into the smog-filled air outside my car window. And to make matters worse, I mused, this war was being primarily fought in front of juries where I had always wanted to be, but where to date I had never been. A weak smile emerged as the latter thought settled, then provoked me into soliloquy. “Matthew, my man,” oozed my sarcasm, “what you know about trying a jury trial can be placed on either the left or right side of a pinhead! Or put another way, pal, you don’t know your ass from first base, let alone second or third. So put the butterflies on red alert, counselor, ’cause your life is certainly going to get interesting all right, and that’s with a capital I!” boomed my conclusion, instantly inspiring me to flick on the radio and change the subject.

It was six-thirty when I finally arrived in front of my apartment. Stella, my next-door neighbor, was standing on the sidewalk waiting to be picked up, I assumed, by one of the numerous men she went out with. I had met her about three months ago when I was moving in. She had been waiting then too, and after I had made several trips between my car and the apartment, she had smiled and introduced herself.

“Hi. I’m Stella Charles, and you must be the new tenant.” Grinning back at her, while wishing I had shaved and didn’t look so grubby, I had set down the box of books I was carting and nervously answered: “Yeah, that’s me. My name’s Harris, Matthew Robert Harris, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

“M-a-t-t-h-e-w R-o-b-e-r-t H-a-r-r-i-s, huh? Well that’s a mighty important sounding name,” had flowed the reply, the letters rolling off her tongue slowly, spiced with her amusement. And renewing her smile, she had extended her hand and I had shaken it gently and just long enough to feel the soft coolness of her skin. I was about to attempt some witticism in response when a horn had sounded, and after glancing over her shoulder she had dropped a quick “See you around,” and strode toward the waiting car. As she was entering, she had paused, looked back at me, and added: “Stop up sometime for a drink. I’m in number three, in the back.” The car had begun moving away while she was still closing the door, so it was to myself that I had murmured, “I will sometime … I will.” And while I was most definitely intrigued by the possibility of knowing her better, somehow sometime had never arrived. After my move to the PD’s Office, I had spent every free moment after court studying criminal law and talking about it with more experienced colleagues. Then too, whenever I had seen Stella around the triplex, she was either climbing into some fancy car driven by a handsome, successful-looking guy, or walking arm in arm with one toward her apartment, which led me to the conclusion that she was not long on spare time. But the real reason, the one that nagged at me when my eyes were so tired that I couldn’t read another line in a casebook and the thought of a gin and tonic in the company of a woman appeared just one step short of heaven, was that something about her raised my basic level of shyness with women to new heights. I don’t know why exactly, whether it was because she had so many suitors, or the fact that she was older than me, or that she was so extraordinarily attractive while others opined that I was just nice looking, my slightly too large nose preventing the finely formed mouth and subtly defined cheekbones from reaching a deeply desired higher ranking. But whatever the cause, the effect persisted, and sometime remained in the future.

A future whose hazy arrival time was further delayed, when after I closed down memory’s merry-go-round and exited my car, once again Stella’s current date arrived, and once again I returned her smile and waved hello as she departed. Then as I walked slowly to my apartment, I squelched the mesmerizing image of her that trailed alongside, turning my thoughts instead to what Chef Harris was going to prepare for dinner.

 

Chapter 5

On Wednesday of the following week, I was working the trial calendar in Division Five when the opportunity to honor my recently formed vow unexpectedly arrived. The Office’s position on trying cases before a judge was that it amounted to legal suicide, “the equivalent of slowly pleading your clients guilty,” as succinctly summarized by George and Robbie. “I’ve met damn few judges who even attempt to understand what reasonable doubt is,” George opined, “and those few who actually do, wouldn’t apply it in a courtroom with a cop and a DA present if their lives depended on it!” Robbie concurred wholeheartedly, and consequently, when handling misdemeanors in Judge Benjamin Burroughs’ courtroom, our duties consisted of plea bargaining the cases that called for it, and withdrawing the jury waivers on the remainder and resetting them for jury trial.

Having worked for five consecutive weeks amidst the continuous chaos of Divisions Two and Four, I was thoroughly enjoying my vacation from their depressingly overcrowded calendars. And having fulfilled my responsibilities within half an hour after the afternoon session opened, when no Prelims trailed upstairs from Division Three, I took my leave and was strolling back toward the office to spend a relaxed afternoon reading cases, drinking coffee, and chatting with Marilyn, when I bumped into Roberts, Steiggerman’s bailiff, in the hallway outside Division Four. Looking as if he could use a Valium, when I inquired as to why, he offered a machine-gun summary whose bullet points consisted of a calendar from hell designed by the Devil himself, the fact that Judge Austin had a trial under way in Division Two and couldn’t assist, and the exacerbating problem of “that damned Sindel who’s taking advantage of the situation by stalling every which way possible!” Nodding my head in feigned sympathy, after he rushed away toward the stairs leading down to the Clerk’s Office, for several moments I just stood there puffing on my pipe while debating with myself. The tipping point arrived in short order, when my recently formed vow to try cases suddenly began vibrating and forced the conclusion that in my case discretion was most definitely not the better part of valor—and after quickly tapping out my pipe, I entered the courtroom in search of Ron.

When I found him in the jury room, he appeared remarkably relaxed, and in no hurry to address the crisis that Roberts had so artistically described. Introducing me to his client as “my dear friend and fellow Public Defender, Mr. Matthew Robert Harris” while lighting up a cigarette, he proceeded to put his feet up on the corner of the table and inquire as to how my day was going. The way my name sounded rippling off his tongue flashed a picture of Stella into mind, and I smiled at both of them as I advised that I was free, understood that he had a few problems, and was available to help out. “It’s the pig sitting on his arrogant ass in chambers that has problems,” he responded matter-of-factly, breaking into a grin. “But I do, ever so humbly, accept your kind offer, Sir—Here,” he tacked on, pushing a stack of files toward a seat to his right, take a look at this pile of shit the DA’s filed.” And sliding into my appointed chair as Ron returned his attention to his puzzled client, for about an hour I read over five arrest reports and interviewed the corresponding subjects. Then, at five minutes to three, the window of opportunity occasioned by the chance meeting with Roberts, slowly began to open when Steiggerman, through his still frazzled bailiff, summoned us into chambers to plea bargain. Expecting only Ron and the DA, David Ludlow, His Honor was surprised to see me. “Well … well, my old friend, Mr. Harris,” he dripped sarcastically. “And what, may I ask, are you doing here?”

“Well, Your Honor,” I answered while slipping down onto the edge of the couch to the right of his desk, “when I ran into Roberts in the hallway, he advised that the calendar was unusually heavy today. And having finished up in Division Five, I thought that perhaps I could be of service here.”

“Ohhh, I see … Well in that case the Court thanks you for helping out, Mr. Harris.”
“The Court’s welcome, Your Honor,” I nodded, then watched as he relaxed backward into his cushiony chair and turned his attention first to Ron’s cases.

Almost immediately, the battle between the two of them—which had been steadily growing more acrimonious since nine o’clock that morning—resumed, instantly raising the temperature to new heights. Ron was not only being difficult in his plea bargaining negotiations, but obnoxious as well. Respectfully obnoxious, I noted from my observer’s seat, but obnoxious all the same. And infuriated before the session was even five minutes old, Steiggerman alternated between sternly suggesting that Ron “be reasonable,” and in an even louder voice threatening him with contempt if he “didn’t settle down and watch his language!” In the midst of this turmoil, David Ludlow, the DA, sat glued to his chair like a disinterested third party. No trace of emotion appeared on his heavy, square-shaped face, and when prodded, he responded to Ron or Steiggerman by mechanically interjecting the “People’s position” into the debate on a given matter, but without actually entering the fray. Speaking in his usual monotone, and so slowly that the words seemed to crawl off his tongue, his contribution did little to settle the cases under consideration or infuse the hostile atmosphere with further fire. Recalling that I had first been introduced to Dave after the conclusion of a Prelim during which Robbie had systematically chewed him and his case into little pieces, the impression that lingered was one of amiability mixed in equal parts with immobility, as everything about him conveyed slowness. He walked slowly, talked slowly, got in and out of a chair slowly, and even shook hands slowly while nodding his massive head at the same sluggish rate. Watching him for a protracted period of time, I had concluded, left one with the feeling of having observed a large, prehistoric snail. Since that time, however, I had learned from my brethren that while Dave was by far and away the most conservative of the DAs stationed in Solina, he was also the only one who was utterly devoid of viciousness—and both George and Robbie had further informed that it was unwise to underestimate him, because underneath that tortoise shell lay a high level of intelligence.

My brief mental meandering was suddenly aborted, when Ron and Steiggerman reached agreement on a case and Ron headed back outside to obtain his client’s approval. Turning his attention to me, His Honor asked what I had in mind on the Cedeno case. During his interview, Joseph had admitted to me that he had imbibed too much in a local bar, and thereafter during a disagreement with a fellow patron had broken a table and three chairs, as well as struck the bartender who had intervened. So, without any plausible defense available, I suggested that in exchange for dismissing the more serious battery and malicious mischief charges, my client would plead guilty to the lesser charge of disturbing the peace, and pay a small fine along with making total restitution for the damage he caused. Because Joseph was employed and could make payments over time, Steiggerman reluctantly agreed, and when Dave nodded his assent, the Cedeno case quickly passed into history. Three others followed in similar fashion, before Ron returned and informed Steiggerman that his client had refused the plea bargain. Instantly, color flushed up the sides of His Honor’s neck and flooded into his face as he leaned forward to glare at Ron. Without speaking to him however, Steiggerman suddenly directed his attention back to me, fuming, “All right, Mr. Harris—Let’s finish up your cases before I deal with Sindel here. Now, what do you want to do with your drunk case?”

“Well, Your Honor,” shuffled my answer, “I feel that this case ought to be dismissed.”

“Dismissed?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, pulling some of Sindel’s shit on me?” rocketed his response, the matching volume causing me to hesitate before replying.

“Your Honor, as far as I know, Mr. Sindel has nothing to do with this case. I, alone, represent Mr. Ginther, and it is my opinion, alone, that the case should be dismissed for the following reas—”

“Alone is the right word, Mr. Harris!” he exploded, shaking a finger at me. “’Cause you’re the only one here, with the exception of Sindel, who’s crazy enough to suggest such a damn fool thing! Now you listen to me, and you listen real good: Your drunken bum of a client has already done twenty-six days in jail, so if you cop him out, I’ll sentence him to forty-five days and give him credit for the time he’s already served. Now take it or leave it!”

“My client elects to leave it, Your Honor,” marched my answer in a firm tone. “And, Your Honor, Sir, I’d like to advise you that I’m not hard of hearing—so in view of the fact that I’m sitting approximately six feet away from you, I think it’s totally unnecessary, as well as equally unbefitting, for the Court to yell at me. I would remind the Court that as an attorney I’m an officer of the Court, and as such, am entitled to at least some small measure of common courtesy. Moreover, Sir,” I tacked on without a pause for oxygen, anger seeping from the well deep inside me to harden my tone, “it’s not a crime, or any other form of misconduct, to respectfully disagree with a judge, especially in chambers during a plea bargaining conference—so there’s absolutely no justification whatsoever for your abuse, and everyone here, including you, knows it!”

Stunned by my response, Steiggerman unconsciously nodded as amazement slowly spread across his face, the fury he discovered in my eyes doing little to diminish it. Five full seconds of heavy silence slid by before he settled back into his chair and forced a grin onto his reddened face.

“Well … well … a bit sensitive, aren’t we?” oozed his response finally. When I failed to reply, but just sat there meeting his eyes head on, he gradually sat up and leaned forward onto his elbows. “Okay” he nodded. “Now what does the Public Defender suggest that I do to soothe his hurt little feelings?”

“Nothing, Your Honor, since you’ve stopped shouting,” I fired back at his sarcasm. “But on behalf of my client, I will accept the Court’s apology for calling him a drunken bum when the Court’s never even laid eyes on him—and moreover, hasn’t been presented with a single shred of evidence as to his guilt on this or any other charge.”

“Well, Mr. Harris, this Court isn’t in a very apologetic mood at the moment,” he rushed at me, straightening up, the bullying tone suddenly returned. “But I tell you what we’re going to do—we’re going to try the case. Now how does that sound?”

“Just fine, Your Honor—just fine,” rolled my reply reflexively, butterflies surfacing, but fear of failure no longer in control.

“Well, good! And let me tell you one more thing, Mr. Public Defender: If you lose, I’m going to give your client ninety days! Now how does that sound?” tramped his final threat.

Deciding to not even acknowledge it, I asked instead if I could be excused so that I might confer again with my client before the trial commenced. His “Certainly, Mr. Harris—by all means” was delivered with a notable loss of steam, and as I departed I noted also a tinge of surprise creeping across his face as he instructed Roberts to order up the jury panel.

When I reentered the courtroom, I immediately headed for the drinking fountain to relieve the dryness pervading my mouth and throat. As the water settled into my stomach amidst the now multiplying butterflies, my mind flooded with assorted bits and pieces of information I had learned from George and Robbie. And wondering if I could even remember to put into actual practice all of my relatively small storehouse of knowledge, I pulled my trial notebook out of my briefbag for security’s sake, then decided to attend to more pressing matters and headed for the men’s room where I relieved my aching bladder, then slowly massaged my flushed cheeks with cold water. As I dried them, Grampy Max’s smiling face suddenly appeared in the mirror, his wise words simultaneously echoing into ear. “Just do your best,” instructed the lesson I had first learned at age seven while learning baseball: “Always give it your all, and if you don’t get a hit the first time at bat, think how to improve your best for your next chance. And remember—as long as you try with all that’s in you, you’ll never have to be sorry,” trailed the teaching I’d adopted, then pursued all my life. “Okay, Grampy,” I whispered back, a thin smile emerging on my lips, “I remember. Win, lose, or draw, Fred Ginther will get everything I’ve got. And thanks again,” I tacked on with a wink as I turned and ambled back to the courtroom to pore over my notes on picking a jury.

Ten minutes later, the entryway doors swung open and the jury panel methodically filed into the courtroom. Studying them from my seat at the counsel table as Bailiff Roberts steered them into the section of the audience nearest the jury box, I noted that they appeared to be a predominantly middle-aged group, and one that featured more men than women. Turning back to my notes before they noticed that I was observing them, as I switched to the arrest report and began rereading it for the third time, a vague uneasiness settled inside me, and halfway down the first page I paused to ponder what it was about the panel that disturbed me. It wasn’t until Fred Ginther was led into the courtroom and seated next to me, however, that it struck home: Not one member was black. In a judicial district whose citizenry was seventy-five percent black, not one single solitary member of the panel was! thundered a thought, Well I’ll be goddamned! following so closely it could be cited for tailgating. So what do I do about it? entered next. And as Steiggerman emerged from chambers, took the bench, and greeted the jury panel, I furiously searched through the large black binder holding my case notes for help.

Nothing jumped up and waved a red flag, but the many hours I’d pushed tired eyes over countless Supreme Court decisions weren’t entirely in vain either. So when Roberts then directed the first twelve members of the panel to be seated in the jury box, I rose to my feet and advised Steiggerman that I had a motion to make, best heard out of the presence of the jury. The look of suspicion which jumped onto his face deepened as he contemplated what kind of mischief I was up to. But after explaining to the jury in an overly apologetic tone that “occasionally unusual matters occur which unfortunately cause some slight inconvenience,” and expressing his hope that they would understand, His Honor directed Roberts to transfer the panel back to the jury assembly room.

“Well, now, Mr. Harris,” flowed Steiggerman’s next directive sharply after the entryway doors closed, “let’s hear your motion.”

“Thank you, Your Honor, I appreciate it. And my motion, Sir, is combined with a challenge—which is to say, Your Honor, that I am moving this Court to dismiss the entire jury panel on the grounds that as it is presently composed of only members of the Caucasian race, it cannot and therefore does not afford my black client a jury trial as prescribed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” Whatever it was that he possibly expected from me, it wasn’t the proposition that I had presented. Inside a second it registered that I had raised a valid issue, with sensitive political overtones to boot. And as the realization fully settled, consternation replaced condescension on Steiggerman’s face, the sudden shift causing him to delay for several more uncomfortable seconds before inquiring as to whether I had any authority in support of my motion.

“Yes, Your Honor, I do,” ambled my answer as my brain hummed into overdrive trying to weave whole cloth from the threads of my various readings. “I feel confident that this Court is aware of the large number of U.S. Supreme Court Cases that interpret the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, so I won’t waste the Court’s valuable time by listing them all, but would instead call your attention to one highly interesting fact that is crucial to the issue facing us here today. Consider if you will, Sir,” I mustered with conviction, “that approximately seventy-five percent of the populace that comprises this judicial district are members of the black race, and yet not one, single, solitary member of the jury panel is! Now, as your Honor knows, the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees my client the right to a jury trial, also provides that this jury be comprised of his peers—which the Supreme Court has defined as a representative cross-section of the community. Now that being the law, Your Honor, I would submit that as my client is black, and lives in a community where three out of four residents are black, it is obvious that the representative-cross-section-of-the-community requirement compels the jury panel to contain a significant number of black peers for my client to choose from in selecting the jury that will try him. Therefore, Your Honor, in that our panel, which is one hundred percent Caucasian, clearly fails to meet the Constitutionally prescribed jury of his peers, it should be dismissed!” I concluded, then paused for added emphasis.

“Not only that, Your Honor,” I picked up when the frown mapping Steiggerman’s face told me I had him pinned in a corner, “but the long line of Supreme Court cases I previously referred to also held that where a clearly defined and recognizable group of persons is systematically excluded from the jury system, then invidious discrimination occurs—which not only further violates the peers provision of the Sixth Amendment, but also the equal protection and due process mandates of the Fourteenth Amendment as well!” I padded my argument, fixing my eyes directly into Steiggerman’s as I zeroed in on the target panel.

“Your Honor, it seems to me, and I submit to you, Sir, that in Solina, where seventy-five out of every one hundred persons are black—I repeat, seventy-five out of every one hundred—that it’s inconceivable for it to be a mere coincidence that on our jury panel of more than one hundred persons, not one, single, solitary one of them is black! But that being most definitely the case, Your Honor, it’s quite clear that it fails to satisfy the Sixth Amendment’s requirement that a jury be composed of a representative cross-section of the community—and on that ground alone, as well as the two fundamental violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, I ask this Court to dismiss the subject panel! Thank you, Your Honor,” I tacked on quickly before falling silent.

There was no immediate reply, and for a full fifteen seconds we just stared at each other across the soundless gulf, which seemed to grow more hollow with each time-tick. Still searching for a way out, Steiggerman chose to focus on my reference to invidious discrimination—which I’d added only to worry him—rather than my cross-section of the community argument. “Mr. Harris!” he finally responded with great indignation. “Are you accusing this Court, or some other part of the Solina Judicial District, of tampering with the jury panel selection process?”

“No, Your Honor, I’m not,” crawled my answer carefully. “While in my opinion, the composition of this panel is strange indeed considering the population make-up of Solina, and while I believe that the overwhelming odds against such a selection occurring naturally would allow the Court to find invidious discrimination at work, no concrete evidence exists to prove it. However, Your Honor, it doesn’t matter—because whether the jury panel was properly or improperly selected, it doesn’t alter one iota the simple fact that as presently constituted in its one hundred percent Caucasian form, it deprives my client of his Sixth Amendment right to a jury composed of a representative cross-section of the community, and therefore should be dismissed!”

“Very well, Mr. Harris,” His Honor returned in a more tempered tone, a thin smile playing on his lips. “You’ve made some strong arguments on behalf of your client, which are now on the record. However, since the Court Rules for this judicial district require that pretrial motions be submitted to the Court and opposing counsel a minimum of one week prior to trial in order to allow a thorough hearing, and since you’ve failed to comply with these rules, your motion is denied for that reason.”
“Your Honor, Sir!” exploded my response, deep-seated anger surging to inflame my tone before I could exercise control. “Until approximately one hour ago, I had no idea whatsoever that I would be charged with the responsibility of trying this case, and no one knows that better than you! So in view of the circumstances, and the absence of any objection to my motion by the District Attorney, I think it’s grossly unfair of the Court to deny my motion on a procedural technicality when justice demands otherwise!”

“All right, Mr. Harris, that’s enough!” Steiggerman punched back. “This Court does not consider its rules mere technicalities, and I’m warning you that if you address this Court again in a similar tone of voice, I’ll hold you in contempt. Your motion’s denied, and that’s final! Do you understand?” he blazed then waited impatiently for several seconds till I replied.

“Yes, Your Honor—It was not my intention to offend the Court, but only to impress upon it to the best of my ability how deeply I believe in my motion. I do apologize, however, if the Court construed my conviction otherwise.”

“Very well, Mr. Harris, I accept your apology,” he nodded, his anger defused. “Now, is there anything else before we continue?”

“Just one item, Your Honor,” I assured calmly, “I would respectfully request that the record reflect my client’s continuing objection to the prospective proceedings in its entirety on the previously stated grounds and argument in support thereof.”

“Very well, Mr. Harris, the clerk will so note the Defendant’s objection on the docket,” he shrugged, a smug smile slithering onto his face. “And now we will proceed to trial.”

Aware that I had created a solid record for appeal purposes, it was small consolation when contrasted against the reality that if I lost the trial, Fred Ginther would have finished serving his ninety-day jail sentence at least nine months before an appeals court would rule on the matter. And hiding my disappointment behind a thin grin as I reseated myself at counsel table, I reminded myself to focus forward so that I could improve at my next at-bat.

Five minutes later, the panel returned to their seats in the audience, and twelve members—ten men and two women—were seated in the jury box. Facing them, Steiggerman, wearing a fatherly smile and speaking in a matching tone of voice, proceeded to introduce both counsel and the various other court personnel, then carefully presented his preliminary instructions. Concluding his remarks in a sugary tone, it carried over to his “You may now voir dire, Mr. Harris,” and in a single, transformational moment, the second inning had softly but nervously begun.

Nervously, indeed. For with my anger having retreated to a safe distance, the vacuum allowed the application of CPR to the butterflies in my stomach—and buoyed by new life, they promptly proceeded to test their wings with a flight pattern that would do justice to a stunt flier in an aerial circus. True, I had managed to harvest fragments of knowledge from my brain’s backyard and cobble them together into cohesive arguments in support of my defeated motion, but the procedure was similar to that involved in a Prelim and the familiarity had allowed some degree of comfort. Now it was Novice-Time, and although thirty-five feet is not a very long distance, the forty-mile trip to my apartment seemed much shorter as I shuffled over near the railing to the jury box and smiled at the twelve persons who instantly morphed into the most important people on earth. To my amazement, words emerged from the desert inside my mouth when I opened it to reintroduce myself as Fred Ginther’s attorney, and thereafter flowed smoothly for several minutes as I began my inquiry by focusing on the traditional subjects of age, education, occupation, and family. Then, having momentarily grounded the butterflies, I turned to matters closer to the focal point of the trial.

“Mr. Haskins—Do you ever take a drink, Sir?” I asked as casually as I could muster. Lawrence Haskins, a forty-six-year-old currently unemployed aeronautical engineer who was married with three children, blinked several times before answering “Yes, Sir,” while breaking into a faint smile that I immediately returned.

“And would it be fair, Sir, to describe your drinking habits as that of a social drinker?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Do you ever have a cocktail when you come home from work?”

“Yes, Sir … occasionally.”

“What does occasionally mean to you, Sir?”

“Well … I guess maybe two times a week.”

“All right … And do you ever enjoy a cocktail at lunch?”

“Well, I have, but very rarely, Sir.”

“Okay,” I nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Haskins, I appreciate your candor. Now how about you, Mrs. Lippitt? Do you ever take a drink, ma’am?” I continued, now focusing on the silver-haired grandmother of seven, who appeared uncomfortable with the question.

“Only at parties,” she answered without hesitation in her naturally soft tone of voice, her facial expression still reflecting unease.

“Do you see anything wrong with a person taking a drink more often?” I then explored, my mind flashing on several reasons for her discomfort, but unable to come to any conclusion.

“No, Sir.”

“Then you wouldn’t think it improper for a person to have a couple of martinis for lunch?”

“No, Sir—but I wouldn’t myself.”

“No, ma’am, I didn’t think you would,” I smiled at her. “But how about if you got some seriously bad news that made you extremely nervous—might you have a couple of drinks to ease the tension and make you feel better?”

“Well, no … but I could understand it.”

“Me, too, ma’am—thank you. And how about you, Miss Reese?” jumped my interrogation to the second row, bypassing a stone-faced Peter Thatcher in favor of the only other female currently in the box. “Might you take a couple of drinks to ease extremely strained nerves from receiving terr—”

“M-i-s-t-e-r Harris, let’s hold off here, please,” Steiggerman intervened, cutting me off in mid-syllable. “I can’t see the relevancy of you exploring the personal drinking habits of every prospective member of the jury, so unless you have an explanation for your overly curious and embarrassing questions, I think it would be best if you moved on to other areas.”

Slipping out slowly, His Honor’s carefully camouflaged reprimand was delivered in the same sugar-coated, overly concerned tone of voice that he had used to comfort Louise Petrie and assist the prosecution’s case during her testimony in the rape Prelim, and inexperienced and unsure of myself as I was, I immediately understood that his suggestion was calculated to make the jurors dislike me for improperly prying into their private lives. Squelching the anger that instantly resurfaced, I decided to see if two could play the prejudice game—and after turning halfway around so that I could face him and still maintain contact with the prospective jurors, I responded humbly but firmly.

“Your Honor, Sir,” I opened unhurriedly, “I’m a bit confused by your implication that my questions to the prospective jurors are not relevant and somehow improper by way of being too personal and therefore embarrassing. My client, Mr. Fred Ginther, is charged with appearing in a public place so intoxicated by alcohol that he couldn’t care for his own safety and welfare, and in that these ladies and gentlemen are going to decide whether that was true beyond a reasonable doubt, their attitudes and experiences in connection with alcohol seem highly relevant to me. In fact, if I didn’t ask them about it, Sir,” I opined with swelling sincerity, “I wouldn’t be representing my client, which you know is my sworn duty. And while I can’t speak for them, I’m fairly confident that if any one of these fine citizens found themselves in Fred’s place, that they’d want and expect me to check out the attitudes of the people who are judging them. What if a juror was a member of a temperance organization? Would that be fair?” I posed, pausing briefly for emphasis, and noting that three out of the twelve prospects were shaking their heads in agreement, while the others appeared neutral, but listening carefully.

“Now as for my questions being overly curious and embarrassing,” I picked up, “I didn’t ask them about their sex lives, Your Honor, that would be highly improper in this case. However, I only asked about their attitudes on drinking, and as nicely as I know how. So I don’t understand how there’s any problem at all, ’cause I’m just representing my client to the best of my ability, Sir. But if the Court is ordering me not to inquire further on this subject, then I will, of course, comply.” I ended, my eyes joining those in the jury box to collectively fix on Steiggerman while awaiting his response. It arrived only after he cleared his throat, then forced his best smile to appear.

“Now … now, Mr. Harris … You misunderstood me,” he oozed unctuously in retreat. “I’m not ordering you not to pursue the subject—merely suggesting that you not belabor the point, that’s all.”

“Very well, Your Honor, I thank the Court for making it clear that I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” I oozed right back at him, feeling that for the moment I was holding my own in the Battle of Bias, but still concerned that the prospective jurors were learning that the judge was suspicious about my tactics. It was only a tiny seed of distrust that His Honor had planted, but I needed to be careful not to nourish it, I reasoned. So, when I resumed my examination on the drinking issue, I continued along the same line but reduced by half the number of questions I put to the various prospects—and a half hour later, after I’d thoroughly explored with them the issue of whether or not anyone would have a problem applying the concepts of presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, I felt that a good rapport had been established between us. Then, buoyed by that positive development, I strayed from the safe ground of traditional subjects and wandered into territory that was sensitive and therefore dangerous, but also necessary.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I began with a smile. “We’ve discussed quite a number of issues here this afternoon, and I only have one more to present to you. I feel that it’s an important one, so I hope that you will all bear with me for just a few minutes more,” I soothed, moving up to where I almost touched the jury railing. “Mr. Waylie,” I then probed gently. “Have you noticed that my client, Fred Ginther, is a member of the black race?” Tall, lean, and graying heavily at age fifty, Donald Waylie snuck a quick glance at Fred, then raised his eyes to meet mine.

“Yes, Sir, I have,” he nodded.

“And, Sir, do you feel that you can give him the same open-minded and fair hearing that you would give a member of the Caucasian race?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Okay … Now do you feel that black people’s drinking habits and their attitude about alcohol in general is different than say … yours or mine?”

“No, Sir, I don’t.”

“Mr. Waylie—have you ever heard the expression, you can’t give firewater to an injun, or words to that effect?”

“Yes, Sir, I have,” he nodded, a thin smile creeping onto his lips.

“You know, Mr. Waylie,” I pursued, returning his nod, “that phrase is generally considered to be an expression of the white man’s prejudice against people of a different color—Do you really feel free from this type of feeling?”

“Yes, Sir … I … think so,” he answered more deliberately after first hesitating for three or four seconds to think.

Noticing that Gloria Reese, seated in the upper row and three seats to the right, had shaken her head ever so slightly in a negative fashion during Waylie’s answer, I followed up from a different angle. “Miss Reese, just like Mr. Waylie, most of us don’t consciously think of ourselves as being prejudiced—but being human, sometimes a bias sneaks into our subconscious without our intentionally placing it there. So with that in mind, do you feel that you can give Mr. Ginther the same open-minded and fair hearing that you would give a member of the Caucasian race?”

As she parted her lips to answer, Steiggerman intervened before a single word emerged, and this time the sugar had disappeared from his voice. “Mr. Harris!” he reprimanded in his customary steely tone, his blue eyes shooting daggers. “I’ve tried to be patient with you and the manner in which you’ve conducted your voir dire, but you have simply gone too far! Race has nothing to do with this case, and I feel confident that you realize that. So if you’ll stop and think about what it is you’re trying to do, I believe you’ll move on into other areas without my having to order you to do so! Do you understand?”

For a fleeting instant, I considered approaching the bench and punching the sonofabitch in his fucking mouth. Instead, having glanced at the prospective jury and noticed an air of apprehension settle over them, I considered my options at warp speed. Feeling that to refuse His Honor’s directive, and allow him to threaten me with contempt, would seriously injure the just established rapport with the prospective jurors, yet not wanting to back off the race issue and have them believe I’d buckled because I knew I’d committed a serious wrongdoing, I decided to walk the tightrope of compromise.

“Your Honor, Sir,” I returned in a voice that quivered from the mixture of anger and anxiety that coursed through me like electric current. “I sincerely regret that the Court feels the way it does. I have been conducting my voir dire to the very best of my ability, and while race may not be directly involved in this case, indirectly it may well be the single most important factor giving rise to it!” I offered, my voice cracking ever so slightly. “Moreover,” I continued after a moment’s pause, “it’s my understanding of the case law on the subject, that it is perfectly permissible for counsel to explore this area on voir dire—So would the Court be so kind as to explain why, for example, Stephenson versus the Superior Court, and companion cases, are not applicable here today?” I posed ever so politely.

“Because I don’t read them the way you do, that’s why!” Steiggerman replied confidently, knowing that while he would be reversed on appeal, as was the case with my jury panel motion, it was highly unlikely that the PD’s understaffed Appellate Department would even bother in view of the fact that if I lost the trial, by the time the Appellate Court handed down its ruling, Fred Ginther would have long since served his sentence.

“Well, that’s most unfortunate, Your Honor. But in that the Court has indicated that if I pursue the subject of race it will order me to cease, I will defer to the Court—requesting however, that defendant’s continuing objection be noted on the Court’s docket for purposes of appeal!” I tacked on with feigned confidence, hoping that the prospective jurors might consider the acerbic give-and-take to have resulted in the proverbial Mexican standoff.

“Very well, Mr. Harris, so noted. And I’m sorry that you don’t see the error of your ways, but the Court appreciates your cooperation nonetheless,” Steiggerman returned, getting in the last word, and still trying to camouflage his effort to discredit me by coating his voice with a thick layer of sincerity.

Whether or not His Honor’s actions were fooling the prospective jurors, or might instead have placed me in a sympathetic light, were questions the answers to which I couldn’t glean from reading their faces as I returned my full attention to them and discovered a virtual blank slate. No hostility showed. But no smiles, or a hint of friendliness either. Pure Switzerland is all I could discern. And already toying with the idea of concluding my voir dire in view of the fact that I hadn’t elicited any answers that would allow me to challenge any of the prospects for cause, and was precluded from probing further on any meaningful subject, I decided that for the time being, neutrality was the best I could hope for, thanked the group for its willingness to serve and their careful attention, and informed Steiggerman that I had no further questions at this time. Pleased, his smirky smile quickly disappeared when I then added that I was exercising two of my peremptory challenges and excusing from service Mr. Peter Thatcher and Miss Gloria Reese. Although concerned that the latter choice left me with only one woman on the prospective jury, still, Gloria’s head-shake while I was discussing the racial issue with Donald Waylie stuck in my memory and filtered into instinct that compelled such a decision, limited as it was by my lack of experience.

The hour that followed featured an exercise full of futility. Beginning after two new members of the panel were seated in the jury box, for thirty minutes, Ludlow, in his characteristic methodical monotone, droned an air of somnolence into the proceedings by failing to ask a single question that I had not previously presented—the only factor preventing his voir dire from being a total waste of time being the surprise ending wherein Dave utilized two of his peremptory challenges, visibly irritating His Honor. With four new prospects now at hand, for the next twenty minutes I slowly and deliberately re-explored the areas of age, occupation, and education for the sole purpose of seeing if I could provoke Steiggerman into cutting me off from inquiring about even safe subjects so as to further expose his bias to the panel. When he failed to swallow the bait, however, I then unleashed the final two arrows from my arsenal and exercised my remaining two peremptory challenges. Exasperated, His Honor constrained himself to glowering at me as I returned to my seat at the counsel table and glanced at my watch which read five minutes past five. Next up in the batter’s box, Ludlow, taking an obvious Technicolor cue from Steiggerman’s reddened complexion, asked only three or four perfunctory questions before advising him that he accepted the jury as presently constituted. In that the last two additions, Mssrs. Herman Sears and Carl Wilkerson, appeared to be more lively and in possession of attitudes less starchy white and conservative than the others, I also indicated my acceptance. And after breathing a discernible sigh of relief, Steiggerman immediately had the clerk officially swear the jury into service, then promptly trailed the case to nine o’clock the following morning.

After saying good-night to Fred Ginther, who thanked me for “trying so hard,” I quickly stuffed my notebooks into my briefbag and hurried from the courtroom in search of a consultation with George and Robbie. To my considerable dismay, they had already left the office, as had Ron and Leon, so unfortunately had only myself to confer with on the long ride home. For the first ten miles, I just listened to music on the radio and allowed the flow of adrenaline to slowly ebb and finally cease. Then, relaxed and suddenly drained all at once, I carefully replayed the events of the afternoon. Reasoning that as amateurish as my performance had been, Ludlow’s lackluster personality hadn’t hit a home run either, I concluded that if Steiggerman’s efforts to turn the jury against me had been less than totally successful, which seemed to be the case, well then … maybe, just maybe, there might be some hope in spite of the fact that the jury was all-white. That considerable handicap however, instantly caused Mr. Worry to reappear, and I was about to run the arrest report back through my mind for the tenth time in search of some weakness in it, conversely adding some strength to Fred Ginther’s radically different version of the incident in question, when I caught sight of Stella as I turned onto Doheny Drive. Dressed in a pale-lemon pants suit that accentuated the lines of her lovely body, she was standing where she always stood when waiting to be picked up—and all thoughts about analyzing anything instantly evaporated in response to her wave as I hastened to park so that there might be time for a brief chat before she departed.

“Hi, there! … What’s new?” she smiled warmly as I crossed the street.

“Not too much, pretty lady—what about you?” I bounced happily back when I reached her, grinning widely as my eyes inhaled her like a suddenly sighted oasis. Hers faded slightly as she got a closer look at me.

“You look exhausted!” she emphasized with a head-shake.

“Well … I got this here thing called a trial going on, and I—”

“The first one?” she enthused.

“Uh-huh, Numero Uno, all right.”

“So, are you very worried about it?” she followed, concern now lapping over the edges of her prior excitement as she studied my face.

“Who … me?” I gibed. “Now why the hell would I be worried? You don’t think that I let little things like the fact that I don’t have the faintest idea of what I’m doing bother me, do you?”

Accompanied by an exaggerated expression of mock horror, my self-deprecating reply pierced the momentary air of seriousness and caused Stella to burst out laughing. I quickly followed, and we were still enjoying it when the beep of a horn interrupted. Still chuckling as she walked to the waiting car and opened the door, as she was about to enter, Stella turned back, and with only a faint trace of smile left on her lips, uttered, “Good luck!” in a low, serious tone of voice, her facial expression sober as well. Nodding my acknowledgment as she slowly pulled the door closed, in the suddenly loud, lonely silence that followed her disappearance, I added softly, “Bye, pretty lady—have a nice time.”

The remainder of the evening passed away as quickly as the five fast minutes I had enjoyed with Stella. After dinner, which consisted of a steak that I over-broiled because I was still daydreaming about her and forgot I was cooking, I settled onto the living room couch to plan tomorrow’s strategy. For the first hour, thoughts about pretty lady lingered to sporadically interrupt my preparation. But gradually, The People versus Fred Ginther permeated my mind and I pored over my notes until midnight, when I went to bed and tossed and turned till morning.

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