Guiltless Chapter 17: The Friend

Thursday’s weather was less nippy, with light winds; perfect for an afternoon rendezvous with Pam and Henry at the West Potomac Park.

Our hangout was the scenic view by the Tidal Basin, with the Washington Monument visible in the distance. The cherry trees were yet to bloom, but would be a breathtaking sight in spring.

We drank coffee and talked, mostly about music. Henry was writing a new song and he wanted to share some ideas with me. I strummed the chords in my head and sang while he hummed the bass line, just like we always practiced in the conceptual stages. We would play for real later, on Babe and Black Missy.

It was a bittersweet song; about a couple examining their stalled relationship. Henry’s genius shone through the notes; the lyrics and the emotion. My mood swam between hope and despair as I sang the chorus. It felt good to be lost in the moment; to forget the impending trial for even an hour.

Pam’s head swayed to our music; rocking from side to side like a big blonde metronome. Her gorgeous blue eyes focused on her phone screen as she did so. Suddenly I felt her freeze, then gasp.

‘What’s wrong, Pam?’ I asked.

‘Jean…’

I didn’t need a premonition to know my day was about to be spoiled. Pam only used my name when she was really upset.

She hesitated, and then handed over the phone. My eyes scanned the screen and widened in shock even as I reached for it.

JAZMIN GARRETTS: ABUSE VICTIM?

‘In a shocking twist, chilling information has come to light regarding the murder of Abu Dhabi magnate Omar al-Baziri’s granddaughter; Jazmin Garretts. A confidential source has revealed details from the unreleased Medical Examiner’s Report; details which suggest Jazmin was subjected to more physical harm than was previously described…

‘…extensive bruising was found all over the victim’s torso, suggesting she was in an abusive relationship leading up to her showdown with Mr. Ryan Chow at The Void Night Club…

‘…Assistant District Attorney Walter Gravitt is the instigator of a burgeoning feud with al-Baziri’s legal representative; Mahamood Jinnah. Mr. Jinnah, who was granted permission to join the prosecutorial team by Federal writ, is adamant the defendant stand trial to face a life sentence…

‘…Gravitt, who is reluctant to work with Jinnah, previously offered defendant Ryan Chow a plea deal for a reduced sentence. This leaked report further questions the credibility of the ADA. It seems, even in death, circumstances conspire to deny Jazmin the justice she so thoroughly deserves.’

‘Whoa,’ breathed Henry, as he finished reading over my shoulder.

My hand trembled, and my chest rose and fell in rapid breaths. I read through the article again; it was written by some journalist called Patrick Bateman, a real hatchet man.

‘That’s ridiculous!’ I exclaimed. ‘It’s written like Ryan hit her-’

‘Didn’t he?’ asked Henry. ‘I mean…you’re not seriously thinking about helping Ryan are you?’

His deep voice sounded uncharacteristically tight and bitter. I looked around at him.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I demanded.

Pam got to her feet and stared down at the two of us.

‘I think you should tell her, Henry,’ she said. ‘I’ll leave you guys to it.’

And with that she left. For a psychologist she seemed to spend a lot of time running away from conflict.

‘Tell me what?’ I asked, once she was out of earshot.

Henry shook his head.

‘I think it’s a stupid idea to help Ryan-’

‘Stupid? Thanks, I’m glad you approve of my decisions, dad,’ I retorted.

Henry’s face turned a deep shade of red behind his beard.

‘I’m not lecturing you or anything-’he spluttered.

‘Good, so we’re done,’ I snapped.

Henry opened his mouth and closed it. He turned away from me and crossed his arms. I felt a twinge of regret at my sharp words, but was also disappointed he didn’t bite back.

We sat, fuming silently as we watched the clouds reflected in the Tidal Basin. We must have sat there for half an hour; like an old couple. My anger ebbed, and then disappeared entirely. I started to chuckle and Henry turned to look at me.

‘Jay?’ he asked, his voice was so tense it’d gone up an octave.

‘This is ridiculous, Henry. Look at us!’

I could feel him relaxing, the tension in his shoulders eased, and he unclenched his fists. He remained worried though; protective even. I finally understood.

‘This is about Jazmin, not me, Henry.’

‘He hurt you-’

‘No, he didn’t. I ended the relationship, it was my decision. I was…going through a lot at the time.’

I shivered as an inconsolable dread crept through me. For a moment I saw four lifeless faces. I was there again, kneeling in the blood and rain. I shook my head, banishing the vivid memory. I met Henry’s concerned gaze.

‘I don’t want a relationship with him anymore.’

‘Then why? Why are you involved in this?’

‘I know it seems strange,’ I said slowly. ‘But I feel responsible, like if I hadn’t broken up with him when I did, he wouldn’t be in this mess.’

Henry’s face was a blend of shock and scepticism. He sighed in defeat.

‘You know Jay, I respect your decision. I’m not comfortable with it but I see how much this means to you. I just don’t want you to get hurt. I’ll do everything I can to help.’

I tried to put an arm around his massive frame.

‘Thanks Henry,’ I said. ‘Just knowing you’ve got my back is enough.’

‘So what are you going to do?’

My thoughts screeched to a halt at the question. I didn’t have a plan.

‘I don’t know yet.’

Henry looked back at the water, I was sure he sensed my anxiety.

‘Whatever you decide, I trust you. It’s Ryan I can’t stand; I hate to admit it but if there’s anyone he needs right now, it’s you.’

Aw, Henry,’

I snuggled up to him and buried my face in his chest. A large arm scooped me closer, it’s grip tentative, as though afraid it would crush me.

My phone interrupted the moment. It was Claire.

‘Hi, Claire, have you seen the news?’ I asked as I pulled away from Henry.

‘I have. Bateman narrowly avoided a law suit there,’ she said, her voice glum. ‘Ryan swears he didn’t touch her. I believe him, I think you’re rubbing off on me.’

‘Ryan, you’re with him?’

‘He’s at my office; we posted bail thirty minutes ago. He’s asking for you.’

***

The Fischer & Kohn law firm was located at Farragut Square; on the fifth floor of a high-rise commercial complex.

It was unremarkable, and cramped. Claire’s office had a claustrophobic feel to it, enhanced by the spindly chairs which felt awkward to sit on. Pauline was there too, studying what seemed to be the police discovery file.

Claire stuck out like a sore thumb, dressed in a stylish navy blue suit which clashed with her dreary surroundings. There was a frightening intensity in her eyes as she looked down at her notes. Her lips met in a firm line, giving nothing away of her thoughts.

‘I’ve got nothing,’ she said, as I walked in. ‘Not even after reading more case law last night than I did in Law School.’

I met the senior partners too. Gabriel Fischer was big; pear shaped, and a talker. Peter Kohn was smallish; bespectacled, and shrewd. They were both in their early 70s, with no signs of slowing down. They were definitely old school, with their rather worn three piece suits and hankies.

I got the impression they were two very wealthy misers.

‘You must be Jean,’ said Mr. Fischer as he thrust out a meaty hand. ‘It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you.’

‘Thanks for posting bail for Ryan,’ I said.

‘Nonsense,’ he huffed. ‘All of our resources are available to him. You just help Claire win this case.’

His voice strained on the last words and Peter Kohn gave him a warning look. Mr. Fischer coughed and cast a nervous glance in Claire’s direction before assuming a smile which seemed rather forced.

Something was going on with those two. They pulled two chairs up to Claire’s desk and sat down.

‘Quite the case, and quite the victim,’ began Fischer. ‘Jazmin Garretts. Beautiful, and quite the heiress, with serious money on both sides of the family…granddaughter of multibillionaires Paul Garretts and Omar al-Baziri…parents dead…student…interned at Howarth & Chase; a private equity firm over the summer… had a trust fund in case that didn’t work out…’

‘What type of juror would you like?’ asked Kohn.

‘Young male minority,’ said Claire without blinking. ‘Middle class, eighteen to thirty-five at the most, basically the same profile as Ryan. It’s so obvious Gravitt and Jinnah would be prepared for it.’

‘Jinnah could attempt to build rapport with them,’ pressed Kohn. ‘He fits the profile too.’

‘Maybe,’ conceded Claire. ‘He isn’t a citizen, so that could work against him.’

‘And Gravitt?’ probed Fischer.

Claire shuffled her papers before speaking, and when she did her voice remained calm; her gaze sure.

‘He’s tough, but fair,’ she said. ‘He’ll go in hard and straight, providing the facts and discouraging supposition. However, the one area in which he changes tactics is in smearing character witnesses. He digs up even the most seemingly innocuous event in a suspect’s past. He doesn’t pander to the jury for an emotional response. He gets his convictions by pushing the investigators till the case is watertight. To counter him we have to get into the details too.’

The partners nodded in mutual satisfaction.

‘Very good,’ said Mr. Fischer. ‘We’ll bring Ryan in so you can get started.’

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