46

I was in the tar pit, reviewing once again the transcript of Seamus Dent’s testimony at the first Fran?ois Dub? trial, when Whitney Robinson III strolled into the room. I startled when I saw him. It was as if I had conjured him with my thoughts, because the whole time I was examining the transcript, I had actually been thinking about Whit, and this is what I had been thinking: Why the hell hadn’t he ripped poor Seamus Dent a second asshole on the stand? Whitney had been gentle, almost kind to the kid. But as I examined the testimony, I could see the flaws in Seamus’s statement, the avenues wide open for attack. I didn’t yet know if Seamus had been telling the truth or not, but I sure could have placed doubt in the jury’s mind, and so could the Whitney Robinson I had seen in court over the years. So why, in this trial, had Whit given Seamus Dent a pass? And it was not the first fairly grievous error I had caught in Whit’s performance at the trial.

“Whit,” I said, standing quickly and dropping the transcript as if I had been caught at something. “How nice of you to visit.”

“I was in the neighborhood, old boy,” he said. “Thought I’d see how you’re getting along. Your secretary remembered me and sent me on back. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, not at all. It’s great to see you.”

“You look busy.” He glanced around at the piles of paper scattered across the table and the floor, stacked on the chairs. “Think you have enough material to work with?”

“Just about.”

“I remember trying murder cases with a file thinner than a comic book. I guess the times have passed me by.”

“Never,” I said.

I cleared off a chair, bade him to sit. His whole body shook with effort as he lowered himself onto the seat. He took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. He was wearing his normal costume, argyle socks, tan pants, blue blazer, red bow tie, but his expression showed more age and worry than I remembered in him. It made me think of the strange comment that ended our meeting at his house at the start of the case: You can’t imagine the price. What price? I wondered. And how had he paid it?

“I thought I’d come by to see if I could help your preparations,” he said. “To see if you had any questions about the first trial that I could answer for you. Anything I can do to help, I’d be delighted.”

I glanced down at the transcript and then up at the old man and his aged, worried eyes. It seemed just then that the way he sat, the way he hunched over with the weariness of age, answered all my questions about the prior trial. “No, Whit. Everything seems pretty clear.”

“I’m more than willing to talk about the case, Victor. To see if I can add anything to your efforts.”

“I appreciate that, but we seem to have it under control.”

“Good. Grand. How are your teeth getting along? Last time I saw you, at the hearing, your whole face was swollen.”

I rubbed my tongue over the temporary crowns and the healing gap where my cracked tooth had been. “Actually, my teeth are doing quite well. I took your advice about Dr. Pfeffer.”

“Yes, I know. He called to thank me for the referral.”

“He hasn’t been the most gentle of doctors, and there has been some pain involved, great spasms of pain, actually, but it almost seems like he knows what he’s doing.”

“Oh, he does, I assure you.”

“What do you know about him?”

“Dr. Pfeffer? Interesting character. He talks a bit much while he’s in your mouth, but he’s quite good. I met him quite by chance at the time of Fran?ois’s first trial. My teeth were in sorry shape when he took control, but they are much improved, I am glad to say. Nothing like a good ear of corn on a summer’s eve, yes, Victor? And I’ve found he can be rather helpful in many other ways, too.”

“How so?”

“Well, he seems to know everybody and enjoys making connections. He likes to feel at the center of things, I suppose, but the connections can be quite valuable all the same. He helped my wife and me with our daughter’s care. In fact, the nurse we have now, who has been a lifesaver, was referred to us by Dr. Pfeffer.”

The nurse with the pale face and black eyes who had been staring out the window of his house as we spoke in the back, that nurse. How strange was that?

“You should let him help you any way he can if you have the chance,” said Whit. “I sense he’s a bit of a sad case, actually, a lonely man who likes to do good.”

“I don’t know how lonely,” I said. “Not with Tilda to keep him company.”

“Oh, you don’t think…” He paused for thought and then burst out into laughter. “Oh, my, you might be right. But what an odd couple. She must give him quite the workout.” More laughter. “I’d bet she could twist him into a pretzel. But, Victor, enough gossip. Old men talk about what others are doing because we can’t do it ourselves any longer. But a young man like you-”

“Not so young.”

“Bosh. So about the trial, did you find anything new to argue? Have you a theory of the murder that might sway the jury?”

“As a matter of fact,” I said, nodding, “we’ve stumbled onto something. Remember when you said your biggest problem at the first trial was that you had no suspects? Well, we found one.”

“Really?” His eyes brightened with interest, he leaned forward. “Who?”

“Someone not mentioned in the first trial at all,” I said. “A man named Clem.” And then I told him of what we had learned, about Leesa’s good friend Velma, about their attempts to relive their wild youth, about the man with the motorcycle whom Velma took on as a lover and then passed on to Leesa, about the fights, the intimations of violence, and the way Clem had up and disappeared suddenly after the murder. I watched closely as I told him everything. I worried that he might act defensive, might wonder how he had missed such a suspect, might think I was accusing him of failing at his prior representation of my client, but the only expression I could see on his face was relief.

“That’s extraordinary, Victor. Do you have evidence for all of this?”

“Absolutely.”

“Simply extraordinary. And the prosecution, Ms. Dalton, does she know about Clem?”

“Not that I know of,” I said with a smile.

“Marvelous.” He clapped his hands and laughed. “I am so proud of you, boy. You have taken the case and made it your own. I thought I might be able to help, but I can see that I am not needed at all.”

“Well, there is one thing,” I said.

“Pray tell.”

“Fran?ois says the landlord sold off all his possessions while he was in jail, but I think there was stuff missing even before the murder. Any idea what might have happened to it?”

Whit pursed his lips, thought about it. “No, no idea. Is it important?”

“I don’t know, that’s the point. I’m just curious.”

“Curiosity. Very good,” said Whit. “That’s always the key to being a good lawyer.”

“Or a dead cat. Can I ask you something else?”

“Of course, anything.”

“This is a bit awkward.”

“Go ahead, my boy.”

“Fran?ois. Is he… how should I put this?” I glanced around, stood, walked over to close the conference-room door. When I sat back down, I leaned close and spoke softly. “In your experience with Fran?ois Dub?, have you found him to be a creep?”

“A creep?”

“Is that too loose a term?”

“No, I think I understand. Why do you ask?”

“My partner.”

“Ms. Derringer.”

“I think maybe she’s… I don’t know for sure, but…”

“You think she’s become emotionally involved with your client?”

“In some way, yes.”

“That’s bad, Victor. Very bad.”

“I know.”

“No, you don’t. How serious is it?”

“I think damn serious.”

“Fran?ois has a certain power. My wife felt it when she met him. She was in her seventies, way past menopause and already ill, and still she felt it. She said it was something in his eyes. The way he looked at her. Maybe it was his French sincerity, maybe it is that little flaw of gold. But you have reason to be worried.”

“Why?”

“Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the Shadow.”

“Whit?”

“It’s from a poem by Eliot, called ‘The Hollow Men.’ Fran?ois Dub? can be a charmer, but there is something hollow inside him.”

“Whit, she’s my partner, she’s my best friend.”

“Between the conception and the creation, between the emotion and the response, falls the Shadow.”

“What shadow?”

“There are things I cannot tell you, Victor, you understand. My relationship with Fran?ois remains as protected as yours. But these things, if you knew of them, in the context of which now we speak, would disturb you greatly. And these are not just stories I am talking about.”

“I don’t understand.”

“There may be evidence.”

“What kind of evidence?”

“Physical evidence. I never saw it, mind you, but in the course of my representation, I came to learn of its existence. And the whole of the trial, I was terrified that it would somehow show up. I knew that its presence before the jury would be devastating.”

“Where was it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What happened to it?”

“Whether it has been destroyed or hidden, I have no idea. But under any circumstance, you cannot let this evidence be exposed to the jury. At the same time, Victor, and I tell you this as a friend, you have good reason to be worried about Ms. Derringer.”

“Whit, you need to tell me more.”

“Between the desire and the spasm, between the potency and the existence, between the essence and the descent, falls the Shadow.”

“Whit, what are you trying to say?”

“I’m answering your question as best I can, within the bounds of my duty. You asked me if Fran?ois was a creep. And what I’m saying is that you can’t imagine the half of it.”

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