MONDAY MORNING. NOW THAT I'M A man of wealth and leisure, I sleep until nine, dress casually in khakis, loafers, no tie, and arrive at the office at ten. My partner is busy packing away the Black documents and removing the folding tables which have cramped our front office for months. We're both grinning and smiling at everything. Pressure's off. We're rested and it's time to gloat. He runs down the street for coffee, and we sit at my desk and relive our finest hour.
Deck's clipped the story from yesterday's Memphis Press, just in case I need an extra copy. I say thanks, I might need it, though there are a dozen copies in rny apartment. I made the front page of Metro, with a long, well-written story about my triumph, as well as a rather large photo of me at my desk. I couldn't take my eyes off myself all day yesterday. The paper went into three hundred thousand homes. Money can't buy this exposure.
There are a few faxes. A couple from classmates with words of congratulations, and jokingly asking for loans. A
sweet one from Madeline Skinner at the law school. And two from Max Leuberg. The first is a copy of a short article in a Chicago newspaper about the verdict. The second is a copy of a story dated yesterday from a paper in Cleveland. It describes the Black trial at length, then relates the growing troubles at Great Benefit. At least seven states are now investigating the company, including Ohio. Policyholder suits are being filed around the country, and many more are expected. The Memphis verdict is expected to prompt a flood of litigation.
Ha, ha, ha. We delight in the misery we've instigated. We laugh at the image of M. Wilfred Keeley looking at the financial statements again and trying to find more cash. Surely it's in there somewhere!
The florist arrives with a beautiful arrangement, a congratulatory gift from Booker Kane and the folks at Marvin Shankle's firm.
I had expected the phone to be ringing like mad with clients looking for solid legal representation. It's not happening yet. Deck said there were a couple of calls before ten, one of which was a wrong number. I'm not worried.
Kipler calls at eleven, and I switch to the clean phone just in case Drummond is still listening. He has an interesting story, one in which I might be involved. Before the trial started last Monday, while we were all gathered in his office, I told Drummond that we would settle for one point two million. Drummond scoffed at this, and we went to trial. Evidently, he failed to convey this offer to his client, who now claims it would have seriously considered paying just what I wanted. Whether or not the company would have settled at that point is unknown, but in retrospect, one point two million is much more digestible than fifty point two. At any rate, the company is now claiming it would have settled, and it's claiming its lawyer,
the great Leo F. Drummond, committed a grievous error when he failed or refused to pass along my offer.
Underhall, the in-house lawyer, has been on the phone all morning with Drummond and Kipler. The company is furious, and humiliated, and wounded and obviously looking for a scapegoat. Drummond at first denied it ever happened, but Kipler nipped that in the bud. This is where I come in. They might need an affidavit from me setting out the facts as I remember them. Gladly, I say. I'll prepare one right now.
Great Benefit has already fired Drummond and Trent & Brent, and things could get much worse. Underhall has mentioned the filing of a malpractice claim against the firm. The implications are enormous. Like all firms, Trent & Brent carries malpractice insurance, but it has a limit. A fifty-million-dollar policy is unheard of. A fifty-million-dollar mistake by Leo F. Drummond would place a severe strain on the firm's finances.
I can't help but smile at this. After I hang up, I relay the conversation to Deck. The idea of Trent & Brent being sued by an insurance company is hilarious.
The next call is from Cooper Jackson. He and his pals filed suit this morning in federal court in Charlotte. They represent over twenty policyholders who got screwed by Great Benefit in 1991, the year of the scheme. When it's convenient for me, he would like to visit my office and go through my file. Anytime, I say, anytime.
Deck and I do lunch at Moe's, an old restaurant downtown near the courthouses where the lawyers and judges like to eat. I get a few looks, one handshake, a slap on the back from a classmate in law school. I should eat here more often.
THE MISSION IS ON for tonight, Monday, because the ground is dry and the temperature is around forty. The
last three games were canceled because of bad weather. What kind of nuts play softball in the winter? Kelly doesn't answer. It's obvious what kind of nut we're dealing with. She's certain they'll play tonight because it's so important to them. They've suffered through two weeks with no ball and no beer parties afterward and no heroics to brag about. Cliff wouldn't dare miss the game.
It starts at seven, and just to be safe we drive by the softball field. PFX Freight is indeed on the field. I speed away. I've never done anything like this before, and I'm quite nervous. In fact, we're both scared. We don't say much. The closer we get to the apartment, the faster I drive. I have a .38 under my seat, and I plan to keep it close by.
Assuming he hasn't changed the locks, Kelly thinks we can be in and out in less than ten minutes. She wants to grab most of her clothes and a few other items. Ten minutes is the max, I tell her, because there might be neighbors watching. And these neighbors might be inclined to call Cliff, and, well, who knows.
Her wounds were inflicted five nights ago, and most of the soreness is gone. She can walk without pain. She says she's strong enough to grab clothing and move about quickly. It'll take both of us.
The apartment complex is fifteen minutes from the softball field. It consists of a half-dozen three-story buildings scattered around a pool and two tennis courts. Sixty-eight units, the sign says. Thankfully, her former apartment is on the ground floor. I can't park anywhere near her door, so I decide that we'll first enter the apartment, quietly gather the things we want, then I'll pull onto the grass, throw everything into the backseat, and we'll fly away.
I park the car, and take a deep breath.
"Are you scared?" she asks.
"Yes." I reach under the seat and get the gun.
"Relax, he's at the ball field. He wouldn't miss it for the world."
"If you say so. Let's do it."
We sneak through the darkness to her unit without seeing another person. Her key fits, the door is open, we're inside. A light in the kitchen and one in the hallway are on and provide sufficient lighting. Clothing is strewn across two chairs in the den. Empty beer cans and corn chip bags litter the end tables and the floor under them. Cliff the bachelor has been quite a slob. She stops for a second, looks around in disgust, says, "I'm sorry."
"Hurry, Kelly," I say. I place the gun on a narrow snack bar separating the den from the kitchen. We go to the bedroom, where I turn on a small lamp. The bed hasn't been made in days. More beer cans and a pizza box. A Playboy. She points to the drawers in a small cheap dresser. "That's my stuff," she says. We're whispering.
I remove the pillowcases and begin stuffing them with lingerie, socks and pajamas. Kelly is pulling clothes from the closet. I take a load of dresses and blouses to the den and drape them across a chair, then go back to the bedroom. "You can't take everything," I say, looking at the packed closet. She says nothing, hands me another load, and I take it to the den. We work quickly, silently.
I feel like a thief. Every movement makes too much noise. My heart is pounding as I race back and forth to the den with each load.
"That's enough," I finally say. She carries a stuffed pillowcase and I carry several dresses on hangers, and I follow her to the den. "Let's get out of here," I say, nervous as hell.
There's a slight noise at the door. Someone's trying to get in. We freeze and look at each other. She takes a step toward the door, when it suddenly bursts open, striking
her and knocking her into the wall. Cliff Riker crashes into the room. "Kelly! I'm home!" he yells as he sees her falling over a chair. I am standing directly in front of him, less than ten feet away, and he's moving quickly, a blur, all I can see is his yellow PFX Freight jersey, his red eyes and his weapon of choice. I freeze in absolute terror as he coils the aluminum softball bat and whirls it around mightily at my head. "You sonofabitch!" he screams as he unloads a massive swing. Frozen though I am, I'm able to duck just milliseconds before the bat blows by above me. I hear it whistle by. I feel its force. His home run stroke connects with a hapless little wooden column on the edge of the snack bar, shattering it into a million pieces and knocking over a pile of dirty dishes. Kelly screams. The swing was designed to crush my skull, and when it missed, his body kept whirling so that his back is to me. I charge like a madman, and knock him over the chair filled with hangers and clothes. Kelly screams again somewhere behind us. "Get the gun!" I yell.
He's quick and strong and on his feet before I can regain my balance. "I'll kill you!" he yells, swinging again, missing again as I barely dodge another hit. The second stroke gets nothing but air. "You sonofabitch!" he growls as he jerks the bat around.
He will not get a third chance, I decide quickly. Before he can cock the bat, I lunge at his face with a right hook. It lands on his jaw and stuns him just long enough for me to lack him in the crotch. My foot lands perfectly. I can hear and feel his testicles pop as he explodes in an agonized cry. He lowers the bat, I grab it and twist it away.
I swing hard and catch him directly across his left ear, and the noise is almost sickening. Bones crunch and break. He falls to all fours, his head dangling for a second, then he turns and looks at me. He raises his head and starts to get up. My second swing starts at the ceiling and
falls with all the force I can muster. I drive the bat down with all the hatred and fear imaginable, and it lands solidly across the top of his head.
I start to swing again, when Kelly grabs me. "Stop it, Rudy!"
I stop, glare at her, then look at Cliff. He's flat on his stomach, shaking and moaning. We watch in horror as he grows still. An occasional twitch, then he tries to say something. A nauseating guttural sound comes out. He tries to move his head, which is bleeding like crazy.
"I'm going to kill the bastard, Kelly," I say, breathing heavily, still scared, still in a rage.
"Yes. He would've killed us."
"Give me the bat," she says.
"Give me the bat, and leave."
I'm amazed at how calm she is at this moment. She knows precisely what has to be done.
"What . . . ?" I try to ask, looking at her, looking at him.
She takes the bat from my hands. "I've been here before. Leave. Go hide. You were not here tonight. I'll call you later."
I can do nothing but stand still and look at the struggling, dying man on the floor.
"Please go, Rudy," she says, gently pushing me toward the door. "I'll call you later."
"Okay, okay." I step into the kitchen, pick up the .38 and walk back to the den. We look at each other, then our eyes fall to the floor. I step outside. I close the door quietly behind me, and look around for nosy neighbors. I see no one. I hesitate for a moment and hear nothing from inside the apartment.
I feel nauseated. I sneak away in the darkness, my skin suddenly covered with perspiration.
IT TAKES TEN MINUTES for the first police car to arrive. A second quickly follows. Then an ambulance. I sit low in the Volvo in a crowded parking lot, watching it all. The paramedics scramble into the apartment. Another police car. Red and blue lights illuminate the night and attract a large crowd. Minutes pass, and there's no sign of Cliff. A paramedic appears in the doorway and takes his time retrieving something from the ambulance. He's in no hurry.
Kelly's in there alone and scared and answering a hundred questions about how it happened, and here I sit, suddenly Mr. Chickenshit, ducking low behind my steering wheel and hoping no one sees me. Why did I leave her in there? Should I go save her? My head spins wildly and my vision is blurred, and the frantic flashing of the red and blue lights blinds me.
He can't be dead. Maimed maybe. But not dead.
I think I'll go back in there.
The shock wears off and the fear hits hard. I want them to bring Cliff out on a stretcher and race away with him, take him to the hospital, patch him up. I -suddenly want him to live. I can deal with him as a living person, though a crazy one. Come on, Cliff. Come on, big boy. Get up and walk out of there.
Surely I haven't killed a man.
The crowd gets larger, and a cop moves everybody back.
I lose track of time. A coroner's van arrives, and this sends a wave of excited gossip through the gawkers. Cliff won't be riding in the ambulance. Cliff will be taken to the morgue.
I crack the door, and vomit as quietly as possible on the
side of the car next to mine. No one hears me. Then I wipe my mouth, and ease into the crowd. "He's finally killed her," I hear someone say. Cops stream in and out of the apartment. I'm fifty feet away, lost in a sea of faces. The police string yellow tape around the entire end of the building. The flash of a camera inside streaks across the windows every few seconds.
We wait. I need to see her, but there's nothing I can do. Another rumor races through the crowd, and this one is correct. He's dead. And they think she killed him. I listen carefully to what's being said because if anyone saw a stranger leave the apartment not long after the shouts and screams, then I want to know it. I move around slowly, listening ever so closely. I hear nothing. I back away for a few seconds, and vomit again behind some shrubs.
There's a flurry of movement around the door, and a paramedic backs out pulling a stretcher. The body is in a silver bag. They roll it carefully down the sidewalk to the coroner's van, then take it away. Minutes later, Kelly emerges with a cop on each side. She looks tiny, and scared. Thankfully, she's not handcuffed. She managed to change clothes, and now wears jeans and a parka.
They place her in the backseat of a patrol car, and leave. I walk quickly to my car, and head for the police station.
I INFORM THE SERGEANT at the front counter that I am a lawyer, that my client has just been arrested, and that I insist on being with her while she's being questioned. I say this forcefully enough, and he places a call to who knows where. Another sergeant comes after me, and I'm taken to the second floor, where Kelly sits alone in an interrogation room. A homicide detective named Smotherton is looking at her through a one-way window. I hand him one of my cards. He refuses to shake hands.
"You guys travel fast, don't you?" he says with absolute contempt.
"She called me right after she called 911. What'd you find?"
We're both looking at her. She's at the end of a long table, wiping her eyes with tissue.
Smotherton grunts while he decides how much he should tell me. "Found her husband dead on the den floor, skull fracture, looks like with a baseball bat. She didn't say much, told us they were getting a divorce, she sneaked home to get her clothes, he found her, they fought. He was pretty drunk, somehow she got the bat and now he's at the morgue. You doing her divorce?"
"Yeah. I'll get you a copy of it. Last week the judge ordered him to stay away from her. He's beaten her for years."
"We saw the bruises. I just wanna ask her a few questions, okay?"
"Sure." We enter the room together. Kelly is surprised to see me, but manages to play it cool. We exchange a polite lawyer-client hug. Smotherton is joined by another plainclothes detective, Officer Hamlet, who has a tape recorder. I have no objections. After he turns it on, I take the initiative. "For the record, I'm Rudy Baylor, attorney for Kelly Riker. Today is Monday, February 15, 1993. We're at Central Police Headquarters, downtown Memphis. I'm present because I received a call from my client at approximately seven forty-five tonight. She had just called 911, and said she thought her husband was dead."
I nod at Smotherton as if he may proceed now, and he looks at me as if he'd like to choke me. Cops hate defense lawyers, and right now I couldn't care less.
Smotherton starts with a bunch of questions about Kelly and Cliff-basic info like birth dates, marriage, employment, children and on and on. She answers patiently,
with a detached look in her eyes. The swelling is gone in her face, but her left eye is still black and blue. The bandage is still on her eyebrow. She's scared half to death.
She describes the abuse in sufficient detail to make all three of us cringe. Smotherton sends Hamlet to pull the records of Cliffs three arrests for the beatings. She talks about assaults in which no records were kept, no paperwork was created. She talks about the softball bat and the time he broke her ankle with it. He also punched her a few times when he didn't want to break bones.
She talks about the last beating, then the decision to leave and go hide, then to file divorce. She is infinitely believable because it's all true. It's the upcoming lies that have me worried.
"Why'd you go home tonight?" Smotherton asks.
"To get my clothes. I was certain he wouldn't be there."
"Where have you been staying for the past few days?"
"In a shelter for abused women."
"What's the name of it?"
"I'd rather not say."
"Is it here in Memphis?"
"How'd you get to your apartment tonight?"
My heart skips a beat at this question, but she's already thought about it. "I drove my car," she says.
"And what land of car is it?"
"Where is it now?"
"In the parking lot outside my apartment."
"Can we take a look at it?"
"Not until I do," I say, suddenly remembering that I'm a lawyer here, not a co-conspirator.
Smotherton shakes his head. If looks could kill.
"How'd you get in the apartment?"
"I used my key."
"What'd you do when you got inside?"
"Went to the bedroom and started packing clothes. I filled three or four pillowcases with my things, and hauled a bunch of stuff to the den."
"How long were you there before Mr. Riker came home?"
"Ten minutes, maybe."
"What happened then?"
I interrupt at this point. "She's not gonna answer that until I've had a chance to talk to her and investigate this matter. This interrogation is now over." I reach across and push the red Stop button on the recorder. Smotherton simmers for a minute as he reviews his notes. Hamlet returns with the printout, and they study it together. Kelly and I ignore each other. Our feet, though, touch under the table.
Smotherton writes something on a sheet of paper and hands it to me. "This will be treated as a homicide, but it'll go to Domestic Abuse in the prosecutor's office. Lady's name there is Morgan Wilson. She'll handle things from here."
"But you're booking her?"
"I have no choice. I can't just let her go."
"On what charges?"
"You can release her to my custody."
"No I can't," he answers angrily. "What kinda lawyer are you?"
"Then release her on recognizance."
"Won't work," he says, with a frustrated smile at Hamlet. "We got a dead body here. Bond has to be set by a judge. You talk him into ROR, then she walks. I'm just a humble detective."
"I'm going to jail?" Kelly says.
"We have no choice, ma'am," Smotherton says, sud-
denly much nicer. "If your lawyer here is worth his salt, he'll get you out sometime tomorrow. That is, if you can post bond. But I can't just release you because I want to."
I reach across and take her hand. "It's okay, Kelly. I'll get you out tomorrow, as soon as possible." She nods quickly, grits her teeth, tries to be strong.
"Can you put her in a private cell?" I ask Smotherton.
"Look, asshole, I don't run the jail, okay? You gotta better way to do things, then go talk to the jailers. They love to hear from lawyers."
Don't provoke me, buddy. I've already cracked one skull tonight. We glare hatefully at each other. "Thanks," I say.
"Don't mention it." He and Hamlet kick their chairs back and stomp toward the door. "You got five minutes," he says over his shoulder. They slam the door.
"Don't make any moves, okay," I say under my breath. "They're watching through that window. And this place is probably bugged, so be careful what you say."
She doesn't say anything.
I continue in my role as the lawyer. "I'm sorry this happened," I say stiffly.
"What does manslaughter mean?"
"Means a lot of things, but basically it's murder without the element of intent."
"How much time could I get?"
"You have to be convicted first, and that's not going to happen."
"I promise. Are you scared?"
She carefully wipes her eyes, and thinks for a long time. "He has a large family, and they're all just like him. All heavy-drinking, violent men. I'm scared to death of them."
I can't think of anything to say to this. I'm scared of them too.
"They can't make me go to the funeral, can they?"
They come for her a few minutes later, and this time they use handcuffs. I watch them lead her down the hall. They stop at an elevator, and Kelly strains around one of the cops to see me. I wave slowly, then she's gone.
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