Guiltless Chapter 15: The Arraignment

I arrived at Judiciary Square ten minutes early that morning. The Carl Moultrie Courthouse, an imposing white building, towered over the journalists and camera crew who stood on its steps. Some rehearsed their opening lines as they prepped to report live to their stations. Others typed  furiously on their smartphones; probably updating their social media profiles.

The chaos took an eternity to approach. My legs worked on autopilot, taking me up the steps and through security in the foyer. The gallery was only half full, with Ryan, Claire and Gravitt already seated. I took a seat in the last occupied row on the right aisle. I wondered what Claire had decided on, had she accepted the deal?

The Judge entered the courtroom and approached the bench, all brusque and business in his flowing black robes.

‘All rise for the court’ announced the bailiff. I got to my feet with the rest of the spectators. Judge Mason, if his name plaque was to be believed, sat down. He leaned forward and spoke, almost absently, into his microphone.

‘Be seated.’

Gravitt remained standing.

‘Case 1517, your Honour; the District versus Ryan Chow on the murder of Jazmin Garretts. And two counts of aggravated assault against two officers of the law.’

‘Yes, yes. How does the defendant plead?’

‘Guilty your Honour’ said Claire in a hollow voice.

I felt a chill in my lungs. What a letdown. She didn’t buy Ryan’s story after all.

Judge Mason flipped through some papers. ‘I understand the defense has entered a plea deal for a reduced sentence. The defendant has been advised of the implications?’

‘He has, your Honour’, said Claire, ramrod straight. ‘I also request bail for my client till the sentencing.’

‘Very well. I expect the sentencing to be a mere formality. Is the prosecution satisfied with the evidence provided by the police?’

‘We are, your Honour’ said Gravitt. ‘And the District requests remand. The defendant has shown prior intent to flee and a violent conduct in assaulting two detectives.’

‘Yes, yes. Even my dog knows that’ sighed Mason. ‘It’s been all over the news. Nevertheless I am prepared to grant some leeway. The defendant must consent to wearing an ankle monitor and present a credible guarantor. Bail is set at a million dollars’ he pronounced as he raised his gavel.

A  million dollars?

I heard  a loud thump behind me and turned around, we all did. A man stood at the door, dressed in a dark suit and overcoat. He looked Middle Eastern, with a thick beard and piercing eyes. He returned our stares with a haughty gaze and walked forward briskly. Each step echoed in the now silent court as this newcomer strode decisively to Gravitt’s table.

‘Your Honour, forgive my intrusion. May I approach the bench?’ he said smoothly. His accent was very refined and he sounded anything but sorry. Claire and Gravitt stared across at each other, unsure what to make of this new development.

‘Who are you?’ inquired Judge Mason, with a slight frown. His gavel was still suspended in midair.

The newcomer flicked his dark wavy hair at the question and seemed to grow taller as he prepared his reply.

‘I am Mahamood Jinnah, legal representative of Omar al-Baziri. Jazmin’s maternal grandfather.’

I felt a jolt and then a sick sense of foreboding. This couldn’t be good.

Judge Mason’s frown deepened.

‘If you’re a legal representative then you’d know you should take a seat in the gallery and observe proceedings, Mr. Jinnah.’

‘I have a letter signed by the US Attorney General, honouring my request to be present as a full member of the prosecutorial team and second chair to Mr. Gravitt.’

And suddenly, with those words, I was out of my depth. Confused, and painfully aware of my ignorance. What on earth was a second chair?

I could see Claire’s face as she was poised in a half turn to look across at Jinnah. What I saw scared me.

Mason beckoned for Jinnah to approach. He read through the letter and frowned.

‘Mr. Jinnah, this is unheard of. What is your purpose for being here?’

‘I request the state withdraw the plea bargain and push for a life sentence.’

‘That is out of order, Mr. Jinnah!’ cried Claire as she shot to her feet.

Jinnah turned around to look her in the eye. Whatever retort he had prepared seemed to vanish as he stared at her, eyes popping in terror, then revulsion. The court watched in silence as he clutched at his tie and cleared his throat.

‘You aren’t in a position to object, Miss Anderson’ he said. ‘This goes over your head, our government could stall negotiations for months while Mr. Chow rots in a prison cell. In fact, I insist he be denied bail as he is a flight risk.’

‘Careful Jinnah, don’t get ahead of yourself’ said Judge Mason. He glanced at the letter again. ‘Everything seems to be in order. I expect both sides to prepare whatever motions they deem necessary. In the meantime I will consult with my peers and superiors to determine how to proceed. The court is adjourned.’

I flinched as he rapped the gavel. The courtroom came alive, with murmurs, jostling and footsteps. I pushed through the thinning crowd towards Ryan and Claire. I had to get to them before the bailiff took Ryan back into custody.

Jinnah seemed to come out of nowhere. I’d been so focused on reaching Ryan I’d forgotten about him. He barged past me on his way to the exit, a stark contrast to his composed entrance.

What was that about?

I was a moment too late, and the bailiff too eager. Ryan vanished beside the side exit before I got to him.

Claire looked around at me as I drew near, we were among the last in the courtroom now. Her eyebrows raised in a silent question as she paused in the task of gathering her notes.

‘Hi’ I said. ‘I left you a voicemail.’

I caught her double take and quick recovery.

‘I’ve got ten of them’ she said. ‘I’ve been busy. How did you get my number?’

‘Fischer & Kohn website.’

Her eyes flicked up to gaze at the vaulted courtroom ceiling.

‘Gosh, you’re persistent’ she sighed.

‘I’m trying to help. What are you going to do now?’

‘Regroup, and quickly.’

‘I think I’ve got something that might help’ I said. I told her what I’d been too ashamed to explain on the phone; my theory about Ryan being drugged with scopolamine. She listened in silence, but her lips pressed together in a firm line when I finished.

‘What do you think?’ I asked.

‘I wish I could say you were kidding, but at this point I’ll take anything I can get. Meet me tomorrow at Lindsey’s Red Lion, 10am. I’ll call you tonight to confirm.’

She resumed packing her notes. I spun around and trotted towards the courtroom exit. I had to get away before she heard the inappropriate giggle that had sprung up within me.

I made it in time. With the double doors between us I let it out. It quickly devolved into a laughing fit. Passers-by stared at me as I doubled over, breathless. I didn’t care, the tension of the past two days melted away. I felt wonderful, and a little hopeful we could win this.

…Lindsey’s Red Lion…after all these years.

She really was GW to the bone, and not such a bad person after all.

***

The paralegal’s name was  Amanda. She was a recent hire at a DC based reinsurance firm, one of al-Baziri’s numerous business acquisitions in the United States.

Jinnah chose her because she was halfway through law school, and well versed in criminal law. She was also unattractive, a requirement of his when working with women.

Raven haired, and plain faced with freckles; she watched Jinnah as he paced his corner office at her company’s headquarters.

Jinnah pushed down on the inner turmoil that threatened to swallow him up. Things had been going so well till he saw her in court-

The defense lawyer. Her blonde hair; it triggered memories.

The white she-devil.

Sex.

Beer.

Cocaine.

Weakness.

The sheer decadence of the memories made him nauseous. He’d once considered himself a devout man and prided himself on his unshakeable faith. That self-image was shattered within a few months of studying at Harvard.

The workload was unforgiving and the expectations in Abu Dhabi far too great. A ‘friend’ had offered relief in the form of white nose candy. A psychologically strained Jinnah had succumbed. An ill-advised decision; which was the start of a slippery slope. Till this day the memories of that shameful night tormented him.

He never breathed a word of it to another soul. He shook his head to clear it, and steeled himself to concentrate on matters at hand.

‘We’ve made a good start, Miss…?’

‘White’ replied Amanda.

‘We have much more to do. We must push for a quick trial and get Chow convicted to I can leave this God-forsaken country.’

If Amanda White was slighted by his scathing opinion of her homeland, she didn’t show it.

‘You seem so confident you’re going to win’ she said.

Jinnah continued to pace.

‘Of course’ he scoffed. ‘Miss Anderson is already at a disadvantage.’

‘I don’t follow.’

‘She believes her client is innocent.’

‘How does that-’

‘She’s never fought dirty’ said Jinnah. ‘She’ll put together as clean a defense as possible. Unfortunately, in this case all the facts are against Chow. Her only tactics are delay, and attacking the system itself to get a mistrial. No jury is going to collude with an unscrupulous officer to put a suspect in jail. As long as the police department did its job, properly, we will win.’

‘Do you think he’s guilty?’

‘I don’t care. That man represents everything that is wrong with this degenerate society. Abu must be appeased. Ryan Chow will feel the full brunt of the law. Who lead the investigation?’

The paralegal checked her notes.

‘Detective Samson Raker.’

‘Find him. I want to know everything he knows.’

‘Yes sir.’

Jinnah finally stopped pacing and sunk into his padded chair. He pressed his fingertips together and closed his eyes, deep in thought.

‘And find out ADA Gravitt’s schedule for tomorrow’ he added. ‘I’d like to meet him.’

***

Carl Gotti was a man of extremes and contradictions. He despised women, when they had clothes on. He smoked Cuban cigars, but wanted to carpet-bomb Havana if he ever got the chance.

He saw himself as a man’s man; the last bastion of masculinity in a politically correct and stifled society. Few men were bold enough to identify with such an abrasive personality outside the workplace. Those who did risked being labeled members of ‘The Asshole Club’.

The nickname was apt. Patrick Bateman and Samson Raker were almost as hated as the man who stared them down over his improvised poker table on a regular Tuesday night.

Gotti was in a buoyant mood, and whiskey flowed freely. The apartment’s air was thick with tobacco smoke; intermixed with the aroma of fried bacon and booze. They discussed the day’s events; in particular the upset at Ryan Chow’s arraignment. The conversation was lopsided; a tipsy Gotti theorized about Jinnah while Bateman lusted for an exclusive interview with the Middle Eastern lawyer. A sober Raker listened, and played in silence.

‘Final hand for the night, boys’ growled Gotti through the fat Cuban roll propped in his mouth.

‘Alright. Raise 20’ said Patrick Bateman. ‘Bet’s to you, Raker.’

The detective studied Bateman for the briefest of moments, before flicking $20 worth of chips to the pile.

‘Call’ he said.

Gotti looked down at his cards and let out a snigger. ‘I raise 150, you feeling lucky, Patrick?’

Bateman’s face blanched. He grimaced and pushed his cards away.

‘Fold’ muttered the journalist.

Gotti grunted and stared at Raker.

‘How about you, Sam? Are you gonna bet or fold?’

Raker smirked.

‘You know, I think tonight could be my night after all’ he said. He brandished four black chips; $200 worth, and dropped them on the pile.

Bateman sat up in his chair and let out a long, low whistle.

‘You wanna take me down, Raker?’ whispered Gotti. He pushed all his chips to the centre of the table and leaned forward.

‘All in’ whispered the Head of Homicide. ‘Your move.’

Raker tapped his cards against the table for a full ten seconds. Then his smirk vanished and he threw his cards  facedown in surrender. Gotti reached out and cradled the chips in his thick, hairy forearms before dragging the chips towards his stack.

‘You’ve got balls, Sam’ said Gotti. ‘Shame you can’t put your nerves of steel to better use here. Leave poker to the pros, you guys make it too easy.’

‘Something to think about while I clean up here’ said Raker as he gathered up the cards.

‘You know, there’s a myth’ said Bateman. ‘About a top dog of underworld poker. They say he organises an annual high stakes tournament. The players are something else. Drug lords; gang bosses; you name it. He popped up about four years ago and he’s never lost.’

‘Yeah, I’ve heard of him’ snorted Gotti. ‘He calls himself “Pokerface”. How original. I wouldn’t mind giving him a shot though. I’ll arrest his ass if I lose to him.’

‘He’s not my problem till he kills someone’ said Raker. He shuffled the cards and stuffed them in their pack. ‘I’m taking two weeks off, Carl. I’m due. Now’s as good a time as any to take it.’

‘Shit, you’ve earned it’ said Gotti. He poured himself a glass of whiskey. ‘I guess I’ll have to hold it together without you. Good job on the Garrett’s case.’

‘Whiskey?’ offered Bateman.

‘I’ll pass’ said Raker. ‘Alcohol and I don’t mix. I tend to get murderous thoughts when I drink, you see. Hardly appropriate for a homicide detective. In recompense, I’ll  toast with this-’

He smirked at Bateman’s gaping mouth and conjured a cigarette and lighter. Gotti and Bateman watched the flame reflected in his impenetrable sunglasses as he puffed and exhaled.

‘To your health’ said Raker. ‘Goodnight.’

He took his leave. Gotti chuckled and raised his glass to his lips.

‘I could use more cops like that guy, you know’ he said.

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