Hit List

Page 38



“It establishes a pattern,” Gloria said.

“What pattern? If he borrowed a camcorder, he must have borrowed a VCR? And so what if he did? So what if he took the VCR home with him, which nobody says he did, by the way, and brought it back a day later or a week later? It’s still the same VCR.”

“Unless he switched it,” a man said.

And now they were off and running, trying to figure out why the property clerk would borrow a VCR in the first place, and why he might then substitute another one for it. “Maybe it was like your cousin’s,” a man said, with a nod at the woman whose cousin’s set kept changing channels for no discernible reason. “Maybe he had a lemon, so he switched it for the one in the evidence locker.”

“The one Mapes bought off the defendant.”

“The one Mapes says he bought off the defendant.”

Keller looked at Gloria. She wasn’t smiling, the expression on her face was carefully neutral, but he could tell that she was pleased.

“Eight guilty,” Morgan Freeman announced. Well, Milton Simmons, Keller thought, but Morgan Freeman himself couldn’t have said it better. “Three not guilty.”

“That doesn’t add up,” someone said.

“Makes eleven, and there’s one blank slip of paper. Guess somebody couldn’t make up his mind.” He frowned. “His or her mind. Their mind. This was just to get an idea where we stand, so your mind don’t have to be completely firm to vote one way or the other, but if you can’t say one way or the other at this point, that’s cool. Anybody who voted not guilty want to say anything about why you voted that way?”

“Well,” Gloria said, “I’m just not convinced the state proved their case. I still can’t be sure it’s the same VCR.”

“Girl,” the largest of the black women said, “is that a defense? ‘That’s not the stolen VCR I sold him. I sold him a different stolen VCR.’ Stolen is stolen and sold is sold.”

“What about the fruit of the poisoned tree?”

“That’s something else entirely,” Milton Simmons said, and explained what lawyers meant when they talked about the fruit of the poisoned tree. “If they searched the man’s house,” he said by way of example, “and if they found a roomful of stolen goods, and if the search was ruled illegal, then everything they found and everything it led to is the fruit of the poisoned tree, and woe unto him who eats of it. Meaning it’s inadmissible as evidence.”

“I bet they did, too,” Keller said.

“How’s that?”

“Search his house. You arrest a man for receiving stolen goods, you’d search his house.”

“Maybe they didn’t find anything.”

“Then you’d have had Nierstein crowing about it. ‘And did you search my client’s residence, officer? And did you find anything incriminating? So you would have us believe that the VCR allegedly sold by my client was the only piece of allegedly stolen property alleged to be in his possession?’ But nobody said a word about a search, which means it was suppressed.”

“Somebody screwed up the warrant,” a woman said. “Fruit of the poisoned tree.”

The mention of fruit aroused Mr. Bittner. “You had to go to the bathroom,” he said to Mrs. Estйvez. “And now there’s nothing to eat.”

“Hey, man, what was she supposed to do?”

“I’m sorry,” Bittner said. “I have low blood sugar, I get cranky.”

“Then why didn’t you tell the bailiff to leave the sandwiches?”

On and on, Keller thought. On and on and on.

There was a knock, and before they could respond the bailiff let himself in. “Judge wants to know how you’re doing,” he said. “If you think you’re getting close to a verdict.”

“We’re doing okay,” the foreman said.

“Well, not to rush you,” the bailiff said, “but it’s four o’clock already, so you got an hour if you want to get home tonight. If you don’t reach a verdict by five you get sequestered for the night. That means you spend the night in a hotel at the city’s expense. It’s a decent place, but it’s not the Waldorf. My opinion, you’d probably be more comfortable in your own homes.”

“What about food?” Bittner demanded.

“Meals will be provided at the hotel.”

“I mean now.”

The bailiff gave him a look and left the room.

“More comfortable in our own homes,” said the large woman, the one who’d called Gloria “girl.” “Translation: Get off your butt and come up with a verdict. Anybody think he didn’t do it?”

“That’s not the question,” Gloria said. “The question-“

“-is did he prove it. You think I don’t know that? We been saying it all day long and not getting noplace. So how about my question? Is there anybody here thinks he didn’t do it?”

No one else answered, so Keller said, “Did the man ever receive stolen property? I would say yes. Did he ever sell stolen property? Yes again. Did he sell it to a cop? Did he sell this particular stolen article to this particular cop? I could believe that and still not believe the state proved its case.”

“Beyond a reasonable doubt,” someone murmured.

“But I don’t know that I do believe it,” he went on. “It comes down to the same question all the time. Do we believe Mapes?”

“Even if Mapes stretched the truth some-“

“If Mapes isn’t telling the truth, there’s no case. And if Mapes is lying, there isn’t even a crime.”

“He’s a police officer,” someone said, “and the ones I’ve known have been pretty decent and honest, but there’s something about him that seems a little shifty.”

“Now that’s funny,” someone else said, “because my experience is cops lie all the time, but he impresses me as a real straightforward young man.”

“That property clerk was lying.”

“Yeah, I’m with you on that one.”

“Took home a camcorder to tape his kid’s party. That don’t mean the evidence got tainted about the VCR.”

“And it doesn’t mean Mapes lied.”

“Doesn’t mean he didn’t, either.”

At a quarter to five Morgan Freeman polled them again, informally this time, going around the room. By the time it got to Keller there were six voting to convict and three voting to acquit. Keller figured it didn’t matter, they weren’t going home that night no matter how he voted, but he had to say something. “Guilty,” he said.

“Not guilty,” said the woman to his left.

So it evened out. Last time they’d done this, Keller had been for acquittal, the woman to his left for conviction. Now Morgan Freeman voted to convict, and they were eight to four, with fifteen minutes left to work it out.

“Okay,” the foreman said. “I don’t say we’re deadlocked, not by any means. It’s just taking us a little while to sort things out. It’s whether or not a man goes to prison, and we don’t need to rush ourselves. Looks like we’re going to spend the night in a hotel.”

There was some grumbling, but Keller thought it seemed pretty good-natured. These people were New Yorkers, after all. You had to expect a certain amount of grumbling.

Twenty-three

The hotel was a Days Inn in Queens, not far from JFK. It looked familiar to Keller, and he realized that he’d met a client in the lounge a couple of years ago. The man had flown up from Atlanta to hand Keller a couple of photographs and an address. Then he’d caught his flight to Europe, an ironclad alibi if there ever was one, while Keller flew down to Atlanta and back again. The client was at a business meeting in Brussels when he got word that his wife had been shot dead by a burglar. He cut his trip short and went home, and four months later he married his secretary.

But that hotel had been a Ramada, hadn’t it? Keller was positive of it, he remembered the client talking about the virtues of the Ramada chain. So it couldn’t be the same hotel, and yet the layout was somehow familiar to Keller.

There was nothing familiar about the room they gave him, but he hadn’t been in any of the Ramada’s sleeping rooms, just the lounge and the lobby. He took a quick shower, then called downstairs and ordered dinner from room service, then sat in front of the television set until the guy showed up with his food. Keller signed the bill, and added a couple of dollars in cash for the waiter, who seemed surprised. Keller figured he didn’t get many tips from sequestered jurors.

“I was wondering,” he said. “Was this place always a Days Inn?”

“If you go back far enough,” the fellow said, “it was a swamp.”

“How about if you go back two years?”

“It was a Ramada.” He flashed a grin. “But that was before my time, so that’s only hearsay evidence.”

Keller, eating his dinner, wondered how they could do that, take a hotel out of one chain and add it to another. It struck him as awfully arbitrary.

He was trying to decide whether he wanted another cup of coffee when there was a knock on his door. He checked the peephole, then opened the door. Gloria darted inside and closed the door behind her, reaching to lock it.

“It felt funny,” she said, “eating alone. And instead of Vietnamese food I had a hamburger and fries and a Coke. If you want me to get the hell out, just say so.”

“Why would I want that?”

“We’re not supposed to spend time together, remember? Because we might discuss the case.”

Her face was flushed, and she’d freshened her makeup. And had she done something different with her hair?

“You look different,” he said.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, I had a quick shower. So I thought I’d try my hair like this.”

“It’s very becoming.”

“Thank you.”

“I had a shower myself.”

“Well, after spending a whole day in court-“

“A person needs a shower.”

“Definitely,” she said. She looked at him. “Well, what do you want to do? Do you want to discuss the case?”

“No.”

“Neither do I. And that’s good, because they told us not to. This is crazy, isn’t it? I don’t know what I thought I was doing, coming here.”

“Don’t you?”

“I mean this is so not me. After my shower I was staring at myself in the mirror. Like, you slut, what do you think you’re doing? I was standing there naked, if you can imagine.”

“I can imagine.”

“I was thinking about this when I was in the shower. Were you? Did you have any idea?”

“I had an idea.”

“Were you thinking about me in the shower?”

“Yes.”

“When you lathered up-“

“Yes.”

“We both took showers,” she said. “Isn’t that great? We’re both clean.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s get dirty,” she said.

Source : www_Novel12_Com