Small Town

Page 13



“Excessive bail is punishment in advance, Your Honor. Mr.

Creighton has no criminal record whatsoever, and his roots in the community make it clear he’s no flight risk.” Fabrizzio said, “Roots in the community? The man doesn’t have a job, he doesn’t own property, he’s unmarried, he lives alone . . .”

“He has children whom he sees regularly,” Winters countered.

“He’s on the faculty of an important local university. Furthermore, Ms. Fabrizzio might want to note the distinction between unem-ployment and self-employment, should she one day leave the comforting embrace of the district attorney’s office. Your Honor, jobs come and go, as do relationships, but my client has something more, something nobody would walk away from. The man is the statutory tenant of a rent-controlled apartment on one of the best blocks in the West Village. Does Ms. Fabrizzio honestly think . . .” Laughter drowned out the rest of the sentence, and the judge let it build for a moment before he used his gavel. “A rent-controlled apartment,” he said. “All right, Mr. Winters. Your point is taken. If your client can come up with fifty thousand dollars, he can go back and stare at his bargain-priced walls.” A N D H E W A S S T A R I N G at them now. He didn’t know what else to do.

It beat staring at the walls of a cell. That’s where they’d put him when they arrested him, and that’s where they stowed him again after the arraignment, after Winters had done such a skillful job of getting his bail reduced to a tenth of what the prosecution had been demanding. The lawyer had been beaming in triumph, but bail might as well have been five million dollars as far as he was concerned, or five hundred million, because $50,000 was four times what he’d had in the bank, checking and savings accounts combined, the day his callers turned out to be cops instead of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Of course you didn’t have to come up with the whole amount, you could make use of a bail bondsman, but you had to have some cash, and he’d already written out a check for ten grand to Maury Winters as a retainer, and had rushed to move money from sav-

ings to checking to cover it. Because it wouldn’t do to bounce a check to your attorney, would it?

Winters had wanted to know whom he could call to post bond, and he’d been unable to come up with a name. His publishers?

Jesus, it had been hard enough to get the cheap bastards to spring for airfare and pocket money for that book-and-author luncheon in Kansas City. Posting bail for a writer with dwindling sales seemed out of the question.

His agent? Roz was a pit bull in negotiations, a mother hen when the words wouldn’t come, but she wasn’t rolling in cash herself. She’d set up shop three years ago, when they’d cut her loose after a merger. Until then she’d been his editor—they let him go, too—and it had seemed sensible enough to go with her, and his former agents didn’t break down and weep when he told them he was leaving. Roz had made some sales for him since then, and she always returned his calls, but he didn’t know that her fifteen percent commission bought him a Get Out of Jail Free card.

His friends? You made a list, Winters had told him, and you worked your way down it and made the calls, and you got a few dollars here and a few dollars there, and yes, it was marginally humiliating, but so was Rikers Island, and, you should pardon the expression, making a few phone calls wouldn’t get you fucked in the ass.

Except it might, he thought. Metaphorically, anyway.

He’d begun making the list, but before he could finish it or start calling any of the names on it, he was out of jail. His ex-wife, the once and once again Karin Frechette (Karin Frechette-Creighton-Frechette, he’d called her, when she’d informed him she had decided to return to her maiden name), had put up her equity in the Montclair house as surety for his bond.

“Well, of course,” she’d said, when he called to thank her. “How could I leave you in a jail cell?”

The conversation was a difficult one. He’d asked about the kids, whom he didn’t see as often as his lawyer had suggested, and she said she didn’t think they really knew what was going on. “But I suppose they will,” she said, “before this is over. I just wish it would get cleared up in a hurry.”

“You’re not the only one.”

“Listen,” she said toward the end, “you’re not going to catch a plane to Brazil or anything, are you?”

“Brazil?”

“I mean, you won’t skip bail, will you? Because I’d hate it if they took the house away from me.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he told her.

He went to the refrigerator, found a stray bottle of Beck’s hiding behind a carton of orange juice. The juice was clearly past it and he poured it down the sink, then uncapped the beer and drank deeply from the bottle.

Brazil, for the love of God.

What she hadn’t asked—what no one had asked, aside from the two cops, Slaughter and Reade—was whether or not he had done it.

T H E P H O N E R A N G , A N D he had to stop himself from reaching for it, waited dutifully while the machine picked up. “Blair? Hey, guy, been trying to reach you. Could you pick up?” The manner was that of a close friend, a buddy, but the voice was not one he recognized, and the people he was that close to mostly called him John. He waited, and the fellow left a number and an extension. And, not too surprisingly, no name.

On a hunch he rang the number but didn’t punch in the three-digit extension, waiting until an operator came on the line and said, “New York Post, will you hold please?” He replaced the receiver and drank the rest of his beer.

All in all, he preferred the straightforward approach. “Mr.

Creighton, my name’s Alison Mowbray, with the Daily News. I’d love to give you a chance to get your side of the story in front of the public.”

His side of the story.

“They’ll try to persuade you that it’s dangerous to get all the pre-trial publicity flowing in the prosecution’s direction,” Maury Winters had told him, “and there’s some truth in that, but we have to pick the time and the place, and most important the person we talk to. It’s way too early, you haven’t even been indicted yet.” He’d be indicted?

“You think you’re less than a ham sandwich?” And, when he’d just stared in response, the lawyer had explained that one judge had said famously that any good DA could get a ham sandwich indicted. “A grand jury does pretty much what a prosecutor asks it to do, John. You ever been on a grand jury? You’re stuck there every day for a month. After a week or so you’re mean enough to indict a blind man for peeping in windows. You’ll be indicted, and the sooner the better.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because, my friend, I’m happy to say I don’t think much of their case. Usual procedure, I’m out there asking for postpone-ments, looking to delay the start of the trial as long as possible.

You know why? Because time’s a great fixer. Witnesses disappear, they change their testimony, sometimes they’re even con-siderate enough to drop dead. Evidence gets tainted and can’t be introduced, or, even better, it gets lost. They lock it away somewhere and forget where they put it. Don’t laugh, sonny boy, it happens more often than you’d think possible. I stall, and I’m a hell of a staller when I want to be, and some innocent little ADA like Fabrizzio, who’s got a cute little ass on her, I don’t know if you happened to notice, stands there with her mouth open and watches her whole case fall apart. My client’s guilty and everybody knows it including his own mother and they have to give him a walk.”

“But because I’m innocent . . .”

“Guilt, innocence, who ever said that’s got anything to do with it? A case is strong or it’s weak, and that’s what we’re dealing with here, not does she or doesn’t she. Their case is weak as midwestern coffee, my friend. You ever been to the Midwest? You ever had coffee there? Then you know what I’m talking about. They got a roomful of drunks who saw you leave a bar with the dead girl. Not that she was dead at the time, but she got that way before too long, though exactly how long’s a matter of opinion. They got evidence’ll place you in her apartment, though how strong and solid it is remains to be seen.”

“I already admitted I was in the apartment.”

“Who says the jury’s gonna get to hear that? Never mind, beside the point. You got a whole apartment full of evidence, all of which gets cleaned and scrubbed by this darling little faygeleh who couldn’t have done better by us if we were the ones paying him. He sweeps, he dusts, he wipes, he mops, he vacuums—I tell my wife, all she wants to know is has he got two afternoons a week open.

He’s a jewel, this kid. Time he trips over the dead girl, he’s got half the evidence stuffed in the garbage cans along with everybody else’s in the building, so how can you tell whose is whose, and the rest of it’s down the drain, and so’s their case. You sure he’s not your cousin?”

Winters hadn’t waited for an answer. “Constitution says you’re entitled to a speedy trial,” he said, “and for a change that’s what we want. Their mistake was arresting you as early as they did.

Granted, there’s pressure, a professional woman murdered in her own bed in a decent neighborhood. High-profile case, so you got all these newspaper readers thinking that could be me, that could be my daughter, that could be my sister, so why don’t the cops get off their asses and do something? Case like that you want to be able to announce an arrest, and, my opinion, they jumped the gun. Now they got to indict you, and once they indict you they got to give you your speedy trial, and once that’s over, my friend, you can forget the whole thing ever happened.”

“Just like that?”

“Better yet, write about it. Don’t forget, I want an autographed copy.”

And if they were to drop the charges?

“They got that option, drop ’em and reinstate ’em later on. But they hate to do that because it makes them look like morons, tells the world they can’t make a case. And later on that’s what everybody remembers. Hey, didn’t they drop this case once already?

What’s the matter, they can’t find the guy who did it so they’re picking on this poor zhlub again? ”

M E A N W H I L E , H E W A S T H E poor zhlub. And what was he supposed to do with himself?

His apartment—his legendary rent-controlled apartment, that even the judge had to agree he’d be crazy to jeopardize—was a good deal larger and more comfortable than a jail cell. Quieter, too. It was funny, but none of the books he’d read over the years, none of the TV shows, none of the prison movies, had suggested how fiercely noisy the place could be. But his apartment, on a lazy weekday afternoon, was as quiet as a grave.

T H E Y ’ D B U R I E D H E R , O F course. Or did whatever they did, whoever they were. She must have had family, and they’d buried her or had her cremated, whatever they decided, whoever they were.