Scott breezed into the city courthouse Monday evening, humming tunelessly to himself.
“Evening, ladies,” he said cheerfully, waving the folder in his hand at the two women who worked in the office behind bulletproof glass.
“Hi,” one of them replied—her voice oddly muted through the window’s speaker.
“Hey, if Scott’s here, that means it’s time to go,” the other said with a note of excitement.
Scott went right on humming as he went through the side door that lead to the courtroom.
Shirley’s face lit up when she saw him. “Hey, baby, how are you?”
“Fine and dandy.” He reached for the clipboard hanging on the wall before she could offer it to him. “Wow, only one case?” he asked, as his eyes skimmed over the docket.
“That’s hardly worth walking down here on a cold night.”
“That’s the truth.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed as he read the docket. “Domestic assault?”
Scott wrinkled his nose in disgust, then hung the clipboard back on its nail by the door—his good mood suddenly gone. He knew it was his ethical duty to try to get his client a decent deal, but his ethical duty warred with his moral compass which said let the bastard go to hell. He couldn’t tolerate wife beaters or child molesters.
He started into the holding room where defendants were kept—under the stern, watchful gaze of Brad, the vampire guard—but he stopped at the threshold.
“You!” he gasped.
The man sitting in the orange plastic chair looked up at him, wary, but confused; he clearly didn’t recognize Scott.
But Scott remembered him: he was James Stanley, the abusive ex-husband of one of his vampire clients. And the reason why Scott remembered him was because he personally beat the shit out of the man and threatened his life. It was the only way to get him to stop harassing his ex-wife. The current laws didn’t provide any protection for vampires. No one cared if people like Mrs. Stanley were verbally abused or hit, since vampires healed wounds quickly and couldn’t be killed.
“You my lawyer?” Stanley asked, squinting suspiciously at Scott.
“No,” Scott said, turning on his heel and walking out of the room.
Scott made a beeline for the judge’s bench. The courtroom was usually thinly populated, since few defendants required night court at the city level, but tonight the entire place was empty, save Judge Smithwick, the bailiff, and Mark Pritchett, the D.A. Mark was leaning casually against the bench, chatting with the judge.
“…had a ten-point buck dead to rights,” Mark was saying, as Scott walked up, “and it was the day before the season opened.”
Judge Smithwick shook his head. “Ain’t that a pisser? But, that’s the way it goes.”
“Yep. And, of course, Jerry never saw him again.”
“Your Honor…” Scott said, politely trying to wedge his way into the conversation.
“What can I do you for, Scott?” he replied. Ever since Scott had kept a vampire from jumping the bench and hurting—if not killing—him, Judge Smithwick had been very friendly towards Scott.
“I, um, just wanted to let you know, I have a conflict of interest and can’t represent Mr. Stanley.”
“Really?” the judge asked, looking surprised. “What conflict?”
“I was retained by his ex-wife.”
“In what kind of case?”
“Well, she came to me because he was stalking her and threatening her, and then, after she became my client, he beat her up.”
“Oh, lovely,” Mark said darkly.
“Considering Mr. Stanley is here for domestic assault, I don’t think I’d do very well representing him, since I’d be the first to believe he’s guilty and needs the book thrown at him—specifically at his head.”
“Yes, well, that does sound a bit prejudicial.”
The bailiff stepped closer. “Your Honor, the defendant got held over from day-court; he’s not a vampire. They just couldn’t do him there because… I think he’s the prosecutor’s cousin, or something.”
The judge sat back in his chair with a sigh. “Is there anyone else working nights we could call in to do this?”
Mark shook his head. “No, nobody but Scott that I’m aware of.”
“Well, we’ll just have to continue his case until I can find a victim—I mean a volunteer who will stay late and represent Mr. Stanley.” He waved Scott and Mark away. “We’re done for the night.”
“Thank you,” Scott said, turning away.
Mark fell in step beside him. “Hey, you can bill for tonight—just so you know.”
“Yeah. Do your claim like you normally would do, bill a couple of tenths of an hour for docket call—since you had to walk all the way over here—and when it asks for conviction, note that it was continued and there’s a choice for “withdrawn,” which is what you want to use. You can use that anytime you’re appointed to someone, but you don’t get to finish the case.”
Mark looked at Shirley, who was standing outside the holding room. “Well, let’s call it a night.”
“We done already?”
“Yep. Put this fine gentleman back; Scott has a conflict and can’t represent him.”
“Mr. Stanley will have to wait until the judge can volun-tell someone else to do it.”
Brad started to escort Stanley out of the room before Mark could even finish his sentence. Clearly he didn’t want to waste any time sitting around the courtroom.
As Stanley walked past, Scott couldn’t help but look at him with ill-disguised loathing. If he was up on a count of domestic assault, he was hitting someone other than his ex-wife. Even if he was afraid to do anything to his ex, he obviously wasn’t above hitting some other woman.
Scott had a half-a-mind to pop him in the chops as he went by.
Stanley glanced at him and away, then did a double-take, stopping in his tracks.
“Don’t I know you?”
Scott felt his stomach knot up a bit—funny how it did that, even though it didn’t work anymore—but he played it cool. “You might have seen me around town. And I’ve been on the news before.”
Stanley squinted at him, as if he wasn’t sure if he should believe Scott. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Or, you probably saw him in court, since he represented your ex-wife,” Mark added, oh-so-helpfully.
“He wasn’t my wife’s lawyer,” Stanley sneered. “That was an old guy—Tom something-another.” Then he squinted at Scott again. “You her lawyer now? What she need a lawyer for?”
“That’s between me and her.”
Stanley pursed his lips. “She hired someone to break into my house and beat me up.” He looked suspiciously at Scott. “You know anything about it?”
Scott affected his best wide-eyed, innocent look. “No. I haven’t heard anything about that. Someone beat you up?”
“Yeah. I kinda think it was a vampire, cause the guy was real strong.” He looked Scott up and down. “You a vampire?” he asked warily.
Scott was starting to sweat… or, at least he would have been sweating if he was still capable of it. “Yes, but I’m hardly the only person in town who—”
Stanley took a step closer to Scott, but Brad tightened his grip on Stanley’s arm, keeping him from getting too close. Still, Scott was closer to him than he wanted to be.
“He was about your height,” Stanley said, interrupting Scott.
“Are you trying to imply—”
“About your build, too,” Stanley said, talking over Scott again.
Scott’s mind raced, trying to figure out what to do that wouldn’t look guilty. If he was innocent, what would he do if some strange man suddenly started accusing him of a crime?
He tried to look confused, but pitying—as if Mr. Stanley wasn’t in his right mind.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never beat up anyone in my life.” He laughed—rather convincingly, he thought. “I was always the nerd in school.”
He pushed past Stanley, signaling an end to the ludicrous accusation. He and Mark were almost out the door when Stanley’s parting words hit him in the back like a punch.
“I know it was you! One day, you won’t be able to hide behind your suit and—”
The door to the courtroom shut behind Scott, cutting off Stanley’s words.
Scott didn’t say anything as he left the building. He stopped in the front plaza, though, while Mark took a moment to light a cigarette.
“I can’t believe anyone still smokes in this day and age,” Scott said, keeping his voice light and teasing, as if Stanley had never happened—just one more crazy inmate to brush off with hardly a notice.
Mark leaned back against the metal handrail leading up the steps. “If you want my advice, counselor…” he said slowly.
“I know… mind my own business,” Scott chuckled.
“Well, that, too. But actually, I was going to tell you….” He glanced around, but there was no one out on the darkened streets. “If you’re going to do things that are, um, extra-judicial,” he said, leaning forward to whisper to Scott, “you need to practice lying.”
“Lying?” Scott asked, trying to sound surprised.
Mark scoffed. “Scott, you’re a terrible liar—like most honest people.”
“And what do you know about it?”
“I’m a prosecutor; it’s my job to spot lies.” He grinned and took a drag from his cigarette. “That, and I’ve taken classes on lie-spotting. You know—study the movement of the eyes, body posture, tone of voice—that sort of thing.”
“And you definitely looked like a man who was cornered.”
“Well, it’s not every day that a man is accused of beating someone up. You ought to know that even innocent people can start to act guilty when they’re accused.”
“Yes… to some degree. But all of that is superficial; if you know anything about spotting lies, you can tell a nervous innocent person from a nervous guilty person.”
“And you’re saying I looked like a nervous guilty person?”
Scott was annoyed—genuinely. “Anything else, counselor, or is my interrogation over? I have work to do.” He started to turn away, but Mark reached out and caught him by the sleeve of his jacket.
“Hey, don’t get mad. I’m just giving you a warning… as a friend.”
He leaned down and stabbed his cigarette out in the ashtray by the steps. “Cops can spot that sort of thing, you know—at least the good ones can. You don’t ever want to be on the wrong end of an interrogation.”
Mark made like he was going to walk Scott back to his office. Scott still wasn’t sure what to make of Mark’s warning—whether he truly wanted to be helpful or if he was trying to get him to confess.
“I’ve got some books on lie-spotting,” Mark continued. “I’ll lend them to you. It’s good stuff to know—there’s nothing worse than being surprised in court with the fact that your client is a liar.” He glanced at Scott. “I used to be a defense attorney, too, you know.”
“I speak from experience.”
They turned the corner and crossed the deserted street; downtown Clarksboro—which was strictly a business district—was dead at night.
“And, like I said, I think you should read it so you know what not to do when you lie. And practice in a mirror.” Mark glanced at him. “That’s not only good advice for when you plan on doing something and lying about it afterwards, but it also helps you in the courtroom—gives you a good game face. Being a lawyer in a jury trial is like playing poker; you don’t want to reveal your hand. You never want to look surprised, or like you’re randomly fishing—you have to look like you know what’s going on at all times, and, what’s more, like you have secret information that no one else has. That’s what makes witnesses sweat on the stand—wondering if you really do know what they know.”
“That sounds more like a prosecutor’s thing than a defense lawyer’s thing.”
Mark laughed and clapped Scott on the back. “Oh, you have much to learn about the law, grasshopper.” Noticing Scott looking at him with confusion, Mark continued. “See, you think that your client is the only guilty party in the room. But, in reality, the witnesses the prosecutor puts on the stand are almost always just as guilty—either because they’re co-conspirators or just because they’re low-lifes in general. You can win a case simply by proving all of my witnesses are untrustworthy. You don’t have to prove innocence; I have to prove guilt. And if no one believes my witnesses, then I have no proof of guilt.”
Scott nodded thoughtfully, seeing where Mark was going.
“It’s like chess,” Mark said. “There are two ways to win: offensively, by defeating your opponent, or defensively, letting your opponent defeat himself.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Scott said, as they stopped outside the front of his building. It was the only one on the block that was lit-up.
Mark seemed in no hurry to go. In fact, despite his advice on keeping a poker face, Mark looked rather curious.
“So… beat up his wife, huh?”
“Am I allowed to say?”
Mark shrugged. “Why not? He’s not your client.”
Scott sighed and leaned back against the gold-painted brick. “She came to see me the first time because he was stalking her and threatening her. Then, one night, she came in here beat up—black eyes—both of them—busted lip, bleeding nose, head wound.
“I took her to the police department to file a report, but they said they couldn’t do anything—oh, unless he damaged her property. He could rearrange her face all he wanted to, but there was no crime in that. But if he broke down her door, they could get him for trespassing.” The injustice of it still made Scott’s blood boil.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Mark said incredulously.
“They said that since we can’t be killed or permanently injured, then there’s no threat against our lives, so there’s nothing they can do about it.”
Mark shook his head. “Un-fucking-believable.”
“I’ve been shot—let me tell you, it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch. And it’s still scary as hell when someone’s shooting at you. Just because we’re indestructible doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain and fear. We have a lifetime of conditioning—millennia of evolutionary conditioning—that tells our brains to be afraid, especially when pain is involved.
“Mrs. Stanley—despite being a vampire—acted like any other victim of domestic violence: she was scared, embarrassed, and in pain.
“It’s not right that he can beat up on her just because she’s a vampire. We’re not punching bags that just anyone can use.”
“I agree,” Mark said firmly.
“I hope you prosecute the hell out of him. He obviously won’t quit hitting on women.”
“Despite a lesson on why he shouldn’t?” Mark asked, perking a brow.
“So it would seem,” was all Scott would say, before heading into his office.
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee