Rights and Wrongs
By Brian K. Lowe
“Tell me again who I pissed off to get this job?” Carefully unwrapping my roast beef on wheat, I used the paper as a holder to keep mustard off of my lap.
“I thought you wanted the job,” Rusty said. “I thought you were taking it as some kind of personal challenge.” Russ Becker and I ate lunch together almost every day. “Rusty” was another assistant district attorney, and we’d bonded over a mutual disdain for other lawyers. Things being what they were, though, sometimes we got drafted to work the other side, and I’d drawn the short straw here, with Rusty as my prosecutor.
“Hell, no, I didn’t want it! The Jan’i killed my parents, Rusty. I had to break into their house and found them on the floor, blood coming out of their ears. I couldn’t even bury them; they had to burn down the house with them still inside.” I stopped to pull myself together. “This is somebody’s idea of payback, probably Bertoli. She’s still mad at me because she thinks I screwed up the Andelson case.”
“All right,” he said. “What’s done is done. But she’s doing you a favor here. Nobody expects you to win this one; heck, nobody wants you to win this one. The only reason the alien’s even getting a trial is because the administration wants to make this look like a regular murder instead of another terror attack. It’s not like we’re pushing for human rights for non-humans here. You sit next to him, I present my case, the judge finds him guilty. They’ll be strapping him down for an injection before we can find an open bar.”
“Wait a second,” I said, putting up a hand. “Are you saying I should throw over the defense? Just phone it in?”
“No! No. I’m saying it’s not going to hurt you when you lose. You take one for the team, Bertoli leaves you alone.”
“Good. Because I’m going to give that alien son of a bitch the best defense I know how. You’re going to have to work to convict. And when you do, and they strap him down and put those needles in him—
–then we can have that beer.”
“Please put your briefcase on the table.” I followed Deputy Berman’s instructions, stood back, and stuck my arms out to the side. Another marshal stood by stoically, one hand on his sidearm. “Who did you piss off to get this job, anyway, counselor?”
“I wish I knew. I was just asking somebody that same question.”
“Human rights for non-humans.” Berman indicated that I should open my case so he could glance inside. “It’s just nuts.”
I found my client curled up on his bunk. While he was masquerading as one of us, under the name “Edward Kane,” he was five-ten, brown hair, a prominent chin. Now he was a seven-foot, shimmering silver Gumby with large eyes and four-jointed fingers.
The guard turned to go.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Aren’t you going to unlock his cell?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Nobody goes in there unsupervised.”
“I’m not going to interview my client from the hallway.”
“If you go in, I have to stay right here and watch you. We want to be sure the same guy who goes in is the one who comes out, not just a Jan’i look-alike.” He pointed to the upper reaches of the cell. “See that? Video, 24-7.”
I silently counted to ten. “Open the door. Then get lost.”
“You realize that if he tries something, and we come down here and there are two of you, we have orders to shoot.”
I hadn’t. No one had seen fit to tell me that little factoid, but I wasn’t going to back down now. In the end, I got to go inside, but only after another guard was called to witness my decision. Then they left.
By then, my client had sat up to watch.
“My name’s William Goudreau. I’m your court-appointed attorney.” I didn’t shake hands. “What should I call you?”
“You can call me Ed. It’s what everybody’s called me for the last ten years.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. It sounds like you’re still trying to pass for human.”
He blinked. “You couldn’t pronounce my name anyway, so let’s just leave it.”
“All right, Ed. I want to review the specific charges against you again before your bail appearance tomorrow. I was just talking to the ADA on the case. He’s going to seek the death penalty.”
“I didn’t kill Dr. Farmer.”
“I’m not asking. But I read the reports. The police found you lying near the body. You had blood on your clothes. It had been raining all the night before, and the grass from the garden gate to the lab was wet, but there were no footprints but yours. You and Farmer had a fight. He hit you, but you killed him before you lost consciousness. Sounds like an open-and-shut case.”
He sighed the way you do when you’ve told the same story many times already.
“Does that make any sense? Could a man be hit hard enough to lose consciousness, but still have the strength to kill his opponent?”
“You’re not a man. We don’t know what your soldiers might be capable of.”
“I’m not a soldier. I was a transport operator. I didn’t even get off the ship until right before your people counterattacked and it was sealed off. I couldn’t go back, so I tried to blend in. I took a dead man’s wallet and got myself a job. Everything was a mess; no one cared who I was. Eventually, I met Dr. Farmer. We became friends. I went to his home to see him and found him on the floor. I tried to revive him, and someone hit me. When I woke up I was surrounded by policemen with big guns all pointed at me. That was when I realized I no longer looked human.”
“So when you hit your head you lost your ability to control your shape?”
“I keep telling you people, I’m not a shapeshifter. We are not shapeshifters.”
“Then how did you make yourself look human?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Fine. I’m trying to help you, but if you don’t want my help… Right now, the whole world is having a paranoid panic attack because of you. Everybody thought the Jan’i threat was over fifteen years ago, that they were all confined to the camps–and then you show up. Now nobody trusts anybody, and it’s all your fault. Because if there’s one shapeshifter out there masquerading as a human being, there could be hundreds—or thousands—waiting to bash our heads in, push people in front of subways, or who knows what.”
“Or drive ice cream trucks through your neighborhoods?”
I closed my eyes and clenched my fists. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that again, or I will personally squeeze your head right through the bars.”
When I opened my eyes he was standing up, watching me closely.
“Why are you mad at me? I didn’t drive one of those trucks.”
“It doesn’t matter. Your people did. They poisoned children, they started wildfires, they set loose the beta virus. They killed my parents.”
Ed blinked again. “Your parents died in the attack, and you’re my lawyer?”
“Everybody lost somebody.”
He was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry about your parents. But what does all that have to do with me and Dr. Farmer?”
“Because nobody cares about you–you’re Jan’i, and they want you dead. Do you have any idea how afraid people are? I am amazed the Pasadena PD didn’t shoot you on sight.
“To make it worse, Dr. Farmer was working on finding a cure for the beta virus. His daughter has it, but of course you know that. As long as the virus is still infecting people, it’s like the invasion is still going on. Finding a Jan’i next to the dead body of the man who has the best chance of curing the virus the Jan’i set loose just feeds the fears of everyone out there who thinks they could come again—which is everybody.
“Believe me, if you’re found guilty you’ll be dead before I can start the appeals. But maybe we can bargain—give the government what it wants, the secret to your shape-shifting, and maybe I can get them to take the death penalty off the table.”
He wouldn’t look me in the eye, preferring to stare through the bars behind me. He spoke softly, and with utter conviction.
“You don’t care. You’re my lawyer, and you want me dead. I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to live in a camp.”
“Okay, look. Let me explain how privilege works. Anything you tell me about the invasion or about the murder, that’s private. That stays between us. But that doesn’t extend to illegal acts you may contemplate in the future. If you’re planning to escape so you can make a new run at world domination, I have to tell the judge.”
Ed glanced up at the camera and made an undecipherable Jan’i expression. Then he shook his head.
“World domination? Please. You never did understand what brought us here. You’ve spent centuries trying to conquer each other and it hasn’t worked; do you honestly think we could conquer your entire planet with 30,000 troops? We were a raiding party, not an invasion. We were supposed to frighten you, drop down on a few cities, and demand tribute: heavy metals, maybe some technology. By the time you got an effective resistance going, we’d have taken off with all your stuff and 50,000 slaves to sell. We wouldn’t know what to do with your planet if you gave it to us.
“If I could get out of here, I’d go as far away as possible and drink until I forgot who I was.”
“Could you do that?” I asked. “Could you maintain a human shape for the rest of your life?”
He shrugged as well as a Jan’i could, then he lay down on his bunk and turned toward the wall.
“I’m going out to Dr. Farmer’s house to talk to his daughter. Is there anything you want me to tell her?”
Ed rolled over. “Please tell her I did not kill her father. And tell her I would like her to visit me.”
I thought about the media frenzy if Regina Farmer came to the jail. Oh, yeah. That was going to happen.
I was escorted to Dr. Farmer’s house by two U.S. marshals, almost identical in their dark suits, dark glasses, and blank faces. They made me memorize a code word and a counter-sign, so they could tell the real me from a Jan’i who had made himself look like me, and I could do the same for them. Very cloak and dagger.
Dr. Farmer had lived on a narrow tree-lined street in an older section of Pasadena. The house was only two bedrooms, but featured a spacious living room with Japanese screens, and woven floor mats instead of rugs. I was told the house was built into a small hill that sloped down in the back, allowing for a basement to be hollowed right out of the earth. That was where Dr. Farmer had done his research, and where they’d found Ed lying next to his body. The house was cool and dark, perfect for a woman with the beta virus.
Regina Farmer could not have been more than twenty-five, dark, pretty in a well-padded way. We were just finding that in some people the virus could lie dormant for years, then flare up without warning. Regina was one of those. Her thick glasses, evidence of the virus’s optical degeneration, were incongruous on her cheerful face.
“Thank you for seeing me,” I said after she’d offered me coffee. “You didn’t have to.”
“No, I wanted to.”
She poured the coffee, using one hand to steady the cup. I wanted to help, but I let her do it. Pretty soon she wouldn’t be doing much of anything for herself. She smiled as she handed it to me.
“The coffee cups are warm, and my hands are always cold. I know you’re busy, Mr. Goudreau, so I won’t waste time. As I told the police, I was in my room, trying to sleep. It’s all I can do sometimes. I can’t read any more, and even books on tape put me to sleep.” She sighed. “Of course, pretty much everything puts me to sleep. This virus has sapped all my energy.”
“So you didn’t see anyone? You didn’t see Ed come over, for instance?”
Regina shook her head. “You don’t have to get to the lab through the house; you can reach it from the outside, by going around the side of the house from the front gate, so anybody could have come in without me knowing—or without my dad knowing, for that matter. I didn’t know Ed was here until the police knocked on my door.”
“It was your gardener who called the police, right?”
“I think so. He didn’t say who he was, but it sounded like Jorge’s voice on the tape the police played for me. It would have been his day to come by. Jorge Sandoval,” she added, as I took notes.
“Why wouldn’t he stick around?” I asked, although I could guess.
Regina put on a guilty face. “He’s probably illegal. We never checked. Dad didn’t care.” Suddenly she began to laugh, bit her lip, and wiped her eyes with a napkin. “I guess that’s pretty ironic, huh? He didn’t care about illegal aliens.”
“Did you know Ed was a Jan’i?”
Regina’s shoulders slumped. “No, I didn’t. But I don’t believe he killed my father. Why would he?”
“Did your father have any enemies that you know of? Maybe there was a fight over grant money, something like that?”
“The only fight over money my dad had lately,” she said, picking up her coffee, “was with Jorge.”
“Jorge? The gardener?”
“Dad wasn’t happy with the work he was doing, and Jorge wanted more money for clearing the brush on the fence. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but when I went into the kitchen for a glass of water, I heard them arguing outside. But it was cold, so I closed the window, and even then I had to go put on my gloves.”
“Did you tell the police about this?”
“Uh-huh. They wrote it down and said they’d talk to him.”
Interesting. It was the first I’d heard about it…
It wasn’t unheard-of for the prosecution to “forget” some small item in the reports they turned over to the defense, but when I told Rusty I wasn’t planning to go the extra mile for my client, I wasn’t giving him permission to sandbag me. I’d have to decide if I wanted to talk to him off-the-record or take it up with the judge at the bail hearing, but first I wanted to talk to Jorge Sandoval. Regina had given me his phone number, but I preferred not to use my cell in the car where I could be overheard.
One of my escorts met me at the closed car door.
I stared for a minute. “Oh, Gemini. Sorry.”
“Libra,” he answered, and let me into the car. He got in the front, muttered a few words into his tiny headset radio, and we drove off. I looked straight ahead and tried not to notice the things my client’s race had done to my planet, still obvious after more than a decade.
Our civilization had been hanging by thin threads, and when spaceships the size of ocean liners appeared, a lot of those threads snapped. We were already half-way to a hysterical breakdown when the plagues started.
For a month, we thought the aliens were just sitting up there and watching us die, out of reach of anything we could throw at them. Then the CDC and the WHO calculated disease vectors and infection rates and realized that the germs were still being spread–from down here. The Jan’i were already on the ground, using their bioweapons right in our midst. The rumors started: How could aliens be operating on Earth without someone helping them? The U.S. accused the Koreans, the Chinese accused the Russians…and then they landed. Tanks, aircraft, and waves of infantry–all looking completely human.
When the enemy looked like us, no one was safe. Suspicion swelled to violence within hours. Neighbor attacked neighbor without any provocation. Entire blocks went up in flames. Barring a miracle, civilization had about a week to live.
Thank heaven the Russians were no longer atheists, because that’s where we got our miracle. They’d been waiting the moment the aliens came down and showed themselves. The Kremlin had uncovered a Jan’i sleeper agent soon after 9/11, and had plenty of time to develop specialized bioweapons of their own.
The Jan’i fell back, but their ships took off, leaving thousands of their own to the tender mercies of the human race. Most were taken up quickly by the military, but the killings and the lynchings of “aliens” went on for months.
Eventually, exhausted, the violence burned itself out. We mourned our dead and after ten years, we thought we were over it. Then they found Ed on the floor next to Dr. Farmer’s body.
My reverie was interrupted when my driver slammed on the brakes, jerking me forward, slamming me into the front headrest. It was padded, but it still hurt.
One marshal was mumbling rapidly into a microphone; the driver was backing us up, one hand on the wheel, the other holding a pistol so large I wondered where he had hidden it.
There was always a small knot of photographers and cameramen in front of my place, but they’d been just a nuisance, as if I’d been a TV star or something. This crowd was bigger, not sporting cameras, and chanting.
They were also moving toward us.
“No justice for aliens! No justice for aliens!”
Are they demanding or complaining? I wondered, but I wasn’t about to get out of the car and ask them. A rock starred the windshield and my escorts had had enough. The car went into full retreat without the driver ever turning to look over his shoulder. Had this been the old days, we’d have been killed, but there was little traffic, and we stayed in reverse for two blocks before we spun around to face the right way. By then the sound of approaching sirens was almost on top of us, but the crowd had been left behind.
“The Fourth Amendment wasn’t written with alien shapeshifters in mind! This is a world the Founding Fathers couldn’t even conceive of!”
“Whatever happened to strict constructionism? The Founders couldn’t conceive of airplanes, either, but you don’t see us changing the Constitution to accommodate them.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying! Look at full body scans—they’re an example of exactly the kind of search that I’m talking about, and you go through those every time you want to board an airplane!”
These people were giving me a headache. I’d only tuned into this “news” station because according to everything I’d been able to piece together, that’s where the trouble had started. It had taken the marshals hours to find someplace to stash me, and it felt as though I had been run all over town. I didn’t even have a toothbrush; somebody was out buying one for me. All I had was my briefcase, and I was too tired to study Ed’s file. But since I couldn’t go to bed yet—like I was going to be able to sleep–I’d turned on the TV in hopes of finding out why that crowd had come after me. So far I hadn’t, but there was plenty else going on.
“All right, everybody,” pleaded the talking head host, making calming gestures with his hands as though he hadn’t been the one to stir up the argument in the first place. He turned to the token liberal, a law professor from UCLA, who was not only the sole woman, but the only person on the panel appearing by satellite. “Ms. Thurston, when we come back we’ll give you a chance to talk. But now, before our break, I want to take this opportunity to update any viewers of the Ray Avery Show who just came in and don’t know about today’s developments.” Given that the delivery of cable television was still spotty in many areas, he really was performing a valuable service for once.
“This afternoon, in Los Angeles, William Goudreau, defense attorney for the Jan’i terrorist and murder suspect who insists on going by the name Edward Kane, was met by a crowd of angry patriots on his way back to his home in Pasadena.” There followed footage of the crowd, and the car approaching, then speeding away backward. The crowd had been larger than I thought. I shivered.
“No one was hurt in the incident, and police arrived a few minutes later to disperse the demonstrators.” Demonstrators? They looked more like rioters from my point of view. “As of tonight, police remain on the scene, but Mr. Goudreau has not returned. We have unconfirmed reports that he has gone into hiding, but we do not know where. We, were, however, able to obtain a statement from this man, who was on the scene.”
A nineteen-year-old kid wearing an earring, with a Superman “S” tattoo on his cheek, appeared on screen.
“I was watching TV tonight, and the guy on Global News said the lawyer for that alien lived in Pasadena, and maybe a few of us should get together and talk to him about sticking with his own kind instead of the Jannies. So me and Ronny, me and him decided to come down here and talk to this guy, and there was a whole bunch of other people here, and then we saw the car coming and we figured it must be him, so there was some yelling and stuff, but he didn’t get out of the car and then they just drove away.” He looked off-camera for a second, and waved to someone out of range. “So we hung around a while, and then you guys showed up.”
Ray Avery came back on camera. “After the break, we’ll replay the segment from this afternoon’s ‘Coffee Break with Marnie Krieger’ that the witness was just talking about, and you can judge for yourself.”
I ground my teeth through a blur of commercials about finding a dentist, how selling gold had gotten so many through the recent troubles, and the great real estate deals now available in such widespread and formerly-congested areas as St. Louis, Portland, Oregon, and Augusta, Georgia. By the time they ended my back ached from leaning forward. For the “Coffee Break” tape, Avery didn’t bother with an introduction.
Two men and three women were seated around a low TV studio table, cups in front of them. I guess they were supposed to appear as if they’d been drinking coffee, but they looked more like they wanted to throw it at each other.
“We fought a war with these—people—for heaven’s sake!” a tall African-American woman was saying. The clip identified her as a law professor from NYU. Lots of work for law professors on TV these days. “A war on American soil! He’s a spy and he doesn’t deserve due process!”
“He’s not a spy!” one of the men railed at her. “He’s a political prisoner! You of all people should understand —“
“Why?” the woman shot back. “Because I’m black? Are you saying that just because he doesn’t look like you, I should identify with him?”
“Wait, wait!” interrupted another woman. She was quickly identified on the screen as Marnie Krieger, the host. “We’re getting off-topic here. I’m sure Mr. Behr didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” The camera flashed to the black woman, who looked to have her own opinion, and the man, who fidgeted and looked guilty. “The question is, it’s one thing to defend a murderer, but how does any human being find it in his heart to defend a murderer and a terrorist—not just a religious terrorist, or a survivalist, but a terrorist from another planet, someone who helped kill that person’s own parents?”
I froze, the blood rising in my face. But it got worse.
“Maybe he just believes in the rule of law,” the fidgety guy began, but he was cut off.
“Well, what I’d like to know,” cut in the third woman, a tall, sharp-featured blonde. “First, did he really lose his parents in the war? And second, how do we know he is a human being?”
The resulting uproar was lost as Ray Avery stopped the tape and brought the audience back to his own discussion, but I weakly pointed the remote in the direction of the screen and managed somehow to press “off.”
I jumped at a knock on the door. Through the peephole I saw one of the marshals. He must have seen the window darken, because he leaned in and said:
I pulled open the door and grabbed the toothbrush and supplies he’d brought me.
“Libra,” I snapped, and slammed the door.
It would serve those narrow-minded idiots right if I actually got Ed acquitted.
I called Jorge Sandoval’s number early the next morning, figuring that a gardener would be up before the sun. It was quickly apparent that while Jorge might speak English well enough to get jobs and argue with his clients, the rest of his household did not share his ability. I dug into my college Spanish.
“¿Allo? ¿Puedo hablar con Jorge?”
There came a wailing at the other end so loud I had to pull the phone away from my ear.
“Jorge no esta. ¡Se llevo la Migra!”
“¿La Migra?” I repeated stupidly. “¿Cuándo?”
“¡Si! ¡Si! ¡Anoche!”
Son of a bitch. Jorge Sandoval had been picked up by ICE last night. What the hell was going on?
“All rise. This court is now in session, Judge Harley Roddick presiding.”
Judge Roddick looked like the flinty Lord Justice in one of those old British movies where the judge puts on his black cap before he sentences the innocent defendant to death, an injustice that indirectly results in the hero embarking on a life of piracy. My client was far from innocent; his days of piracy were a matter of record. If Judge Roddick was flinty and prone to hanging, Ed’s long-term outlook was bleak.
Today, however, I was looking to make Rusty Becker’s outlook a little bleaker. We were the first matter on the docket.
“Mr. Goudreau, you wish to be heard on the matter of bail?”
“Your honor, my client has been remanded without bail. He has no prior criminal record. We would request a more reasonable bail be granted.”
“If it please the court,” Rusty said, “the People will be seeking capital punishment in this matter, and we believe the defendant’s flight risk is extremely high. We would oppose any bail.”
“Bail is denied. Anything else?”
I swallowed. This was exactly the kind of motion I hadn’t been planning to make, but the government’s high-handedness gave me no choice.
“Your honor, the defendant renews his plea for bail on the grounds that he is not safe in custody. I have reason to believe that the People are withholding evidence and have tampered with a witness.”
There was a long moment of electric silence.
“In my chambers.”
“So you think it went well today?”
I sighed and shook my head. “Yeah, I guess. Rusty argued that there was no way to know that Jorge was the one who called the cops, but when I said Regina could testify it was his day to come in, the judge had to agree with us. He ordered Jorge to be brought in so I can question him.
“But Jorge’s being held by the feds—if he’s still in the country at all. If they say they’ve already sent him back to Mexico, or El Salvador, or wherever, then we’re done.”
Ed sat very still on his bunk. “I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else.”
I threw his file to the floor. “Yes you should, dammit! And so should I! I’ll be straight with you, Ed—if I weren’t your defense attorney, I’d be happy as shit to see you fry. But God damn it, I am your lawyer and now they’ve made me mad!”
Ed actually looked at me. “What’s going on? You were never this interested in defending me before.”
I chopped the air with my hand. “That was then. This is now. A lot of people want you to be guilty. I can handle that, but now they’re trying to make you guilty, and that’s over the line.” I started to pace in the small area. “They’ve made a tactical mistake. As long as Jorge Sandoval isn’t available to testify for us, he isn’t available to testify against us, either. And we can put him at Dr. Farmer’s house near the time of the murder. That’s called reasonable doubt.”
“But they’ve already made a witness disappear. Who knows what else they might try? If you start making trouble… Like you said, nobody wants to me walk out of there after the trial.”
I nodded like one of those drinking bird toys. “I did, and they did. But they don’t want to execute you for terrorism; they want it to be for simple murder. And for that they need some legal cover. I won’t sugar-coat it; even if I can get you off, you’ll still go to the camps, but if I can dig up enough to undermine Rusty’s case, the judge may have to acquit you at least of murdering Dr. Farmer.”
I picked up a notepad and a pen. “Okay, let’s get started. What exactly were you doing at Dr. Farmer’s house that day?”
“We were friends.”
“Yeah, I know. But why did you go there that particular day? Wasn’t he working?” No answer. “Ed, this isn’t going to work if you don’t help me.”
“I can’t. It was a secret.”
“What do you mean, you can’t? Why can’t you? You want to die instead?”
“Better me than you. You’ve already treated me better than anybody else ever has. I’m not going to turn on you now that you’ve finally decided to go to bat for me.”
I stared at him like he was deranged. “What the hell are you talking about?”
For a moment I thought he was going to refuse to answer. “Can I borrow your notepad? I need to diagram the crime scene.” I handed it to him, then stood over him as he began to write quickly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he’d arranged us so our backs were to the camera.
I think the cell is bugged.
I started to protest that eavesdropping on our conversations was illegal, that it would blow the entire prosecution sky-high, but nothing came out. They’d suborned Rusty. They’d gotten to Jorge Sandoval. They had me spouting secret codes like James Bond. The world post-invasion was not what it had been.
“Oh, I see,” I said nonchalantly. “So you were here…” I took the pencil from him as though I were making notes. Why were you there?
We had an argument. Dr. Farmer wasn’t working on a cure for the beta virus. He was trying to weaponize it.
I felt the floor slipping away from under my feet. My world shrank to a small disc of light surrounded by blackness. The Jan’i had devastated the Earth with plagues and bioweapons. Now my own government want to create its own Jan’i plagues for its own use? The mere rumor would incite worldwide rioting.
“The government is petrified the Russians already have something because they were the ones who stopped us—and they have a huge head start,” he whispered, so low I could barely hear him even with our heads together. “When I met Dr. Farmer, he told me he was working on the beta virus vaccine. After we became friends, I told him who I was so I could help him. But he figured that weapons are easier to make than cures, and the government will pay a lot of money for them.”
“And you figured it out.”
“Dr. Farmer was a scientist. He talked too much. I think he thought I’d appreciate what he was doing, me being an alien monster, after all. We had an argument, and I left. But I didn’t want to leave it like that, so I went back to talk to him, and I found him on the floor. I knelt down next to him and someone hit me. I woke up with ten cops on top of me.”
I was still trying to wrap my brain around what he was telling me. I believed him, it made sense, explained everything. Unfortunately…
“It still doesn’t do us any good. All it does is give you another motive.”
Ed’s trial came with wicked speed. Before I knew what I was in for, I’d agreed to the government’s request for a quick trial, and now I was paying for it. It didn’t help that the marshals moved me every two days to a new hotel, ushering me in through service entrances wearing a hat and dark glasses. I didn’t have time to watch TV, so I didn’t know if it was really necessary or just another of their tricks.
On the other hand, I had a very sparse defense and it wasn’t going to get stronger. Dr. Farmer and Ed had both been attacked with a $6,000 microscope that their assailant had picked up at the scene. It bore their DNA, but no fingerprints other than Dr. Farmer’s. Since Jan’i don’t have fingerprints, the cops claimed that was evidence Ed had used it to kill Dr. Farmer. From Ed’s wounds I could argue that this scenario made no sense, but I couldn’t seem to hire an expert for any amount of money. Every time they heard who my client was they either found a conflict or just hung up.
Of course, there were no witnesses. Jorge Sandoval’s trail was stone cold. Regina Farmer offered what help she could, but it wasn’t a lot.
Security was so tight that even with my escort I was late getting in to the courtroom, but Judge Roddick didn’t comment. I had the distinct impression that he’d been run through a few scanners himself. Even with the heavy security, the packed courtroom made me nervous.
Rusty agreed with my request to waive opening statements. I didn’t want to give up everything before I even started. The judge was surprised, but probably pleased, and we proceeded straight to the prosecution’s witnesses, which meant the cops who found Dr. Farmer dead and Ed sprawled next to his body, blood on his shirt. Which they calmly and meticulously described, one after another. I asked each of them if they had noticed anything about the scene that had not gone into the official reports. Each said:
And that was that. Eight times over.
I had a little more leeway with the crime techs who tried to recreate the scene.
“Can you point out,” I asked, “where my client was struck on his body?”
The tech obliged me by using his laser pointer to indicate where his report, mounted on an easel, showed a gash on Edward’s head behind one ear.
“Isn’t that indicative of a blow from behind, not the kind of injury you would receive in a face-to-face fight?”
“I can’t answer that. I don’t know how Jan’i fight.”
I fixed him with a stare, sensing weakness. “But in your professional experience, aren’t injuries sustained in a fight typically to the face, not the back of the skull, as would be the case if the victim were hit from behind by an unknown assailant?”
“Objection,” Rusty said loudly. “The question is compound. And the witness has already testified that he is not an expert on Jan’i hand-to-hand combat techniques.”
“Your honor! Dr. Farmer was a 49-year-old research scientist. If the prosecution is going to argue that he struck such a serious blow against an opponent trained in hand-to-hand combat, then the People’s case will hold even less water than it does now.”
Judge Roddick frowned at Rusty before he spoke. “The People were using a term of art—which they will refrain from repeating. The objection is sustained.”
“Your honor, if I can’t challenge the People’s expert, I don’t have a lot to work with.”
“The objection is sustained. Move along, Mr. Goudreau.”
The audience cheered.
In the end, the prosecution had no witnesses and nothing to rebut my client’s claim that he came on the body after death. I was not naïve enough to think that mattered.
I wanted to put Ed on the stand, but I was afraid of what Rusty might get him to say. Our one chance was if I could use Regina Farmer to establish that there was been another person present with motive to kill her father, and create reasonable doubt.
In other words, we were screwed.
Regina looked nervous as she took the stand. At my suggestion, she was wearing her thickest glasses, and she seemed to have some trouble mounting the step to the box. After the initial surprise at her summons, the courtroom was silent.
I covered the preliminaries gently but swiftly.
“Ms. Farmer, can you tell us what you saw and heard on the morning of April 3rd of this year, the day your father died?”
“I was asleep in my room when the gardener woke me with his leaf blower. He always comes early Fridays, and he wakes me up. My father had spoken to him about it, but Jorge always said he would try to be quiet, but it never changed.”
“That would be Jorge Sandoval?”
“Did you see Mr. Sandoval that day?”
“Have you seen him since?”
“No. I heard he’d been deported.”
“Please stick with what you know, Ms. Farmer. Now, did anything happen after you got up?”
“I was in the kitchen getting some breakfast,” she said carefully, looking at the judge as I’d suggested earlier. “The kitchen window is right over the basement where my father had his laboratory. I was going to close it because the house was cold. I heard him arguing with someone. It was Jorge. They were arguing about his leaf blower again. My father was getting upset, not just because of the noise waking me up, but because he had to interrupt his work to speak to Jorge about it.”
“And did Jorge answer, or argue back?”
“Yes, he was angry about some work my father wanted him to do on the back fence, but my father wouldn’t pay for more men.” She smiled weakly. “My father was a bit of a tightwad.”
The audience chuckled.
“Did you hear anything else? Anything to suggest there might be violence?”
“Objection. Calls for speculation.”
That one was sustained too, but I’d made the point. I turned her over to Rusty, who approached.
“Good morning, Ms. Farmer. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. And I also understand you’re not well. If there’s anything we can do to make you more comfortable, please ask. But I won’t be keeping you long.”
Regina smiled and reached into her purse for a tissue, which she used to wipe her eye.
“Ms. Farmer, did you hear the tape of the 911 call to the police that morning?”
“And was that caller, in your opinion, Jorge Sandoval? I assume you’re familiar with his voice,” he added hastily.
Regina shrugged. “I couldn’t say.”
That wasn’t what she’d told the police, but Rusty let it go.
“Ms. Farmer, does it make any sense to you that, if Mr. Sandoval had had a fight with your father, as the defense seems to be implying, that he would then call the police to report his own crime?”
Rusty turned around to glance at me. Turnabout was fair play. His question was stricken, as mine had been, but he’d made his point too. He sat down.
“Mr. Goudreau? Re-direct?”
“One moment, your honor.” Regina’s remarks made me think back to the morning of the murder. It had been raining the night before; how cold had it been? Cold enough to affect the temperature of the body? Could the time of death be wrong?
I got up and slowly approached the witness stand, my mind on whether I should re-call the crime scene tech.
“Ms. Farmer, uh, you said heard your father arguing with Mr. Sandoval that morning, correct?”
“Yes, when I went into the kitchen. That’s when I heard them. But then I closed the window.”
“Of course. You closed the window because it was cold.” I retreated a step, and I must have lost track of a few seconds, because Judge Riddick called me back to the present.
“Mr. Goudreau, do you have any more questions for the witness.”
“Yes, your honor,” I replied automatically, but I was thinking about something else: I was thinking about who was lying, who was covering up, and who had killed Dr. Farmer.
“Regina, did the air smell nice, after the rain?”
She stared at me a moment. “Yes…”
“Your honor,” Rusty called. “Is Mr. Goudreau going somewhere with this weather report?”
I ignored him. “But you had to on your gloves, because the house was so cold?”
She took her time answering. “Yes. Yes, I did.”
“So you were already wearing your gloves when you heard your father and my client arguing through the window.”
“No, I said I heard my father and Jorge.”
“And since you were wearing your gloves, when you hit your father over the head with a microscope, you didn’t leave any fingerprints. And by using the back stairs from the house to get to the lab, you didn’t leave any footprints on the grass.”
“I don’t– What are you talking about?” She fumbled for her tissue.
“Regina, does Jorge usually cut the grass when it’s wet?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “You didn’t know it had rained all night, did you? You thought he’d been there, because it was his day to come, so when you had to call the police, you imitated his voice.” I lowered my voice so I wouldn’t be heard in the gallery. “You heard Ed and your father arguing about his research, and you realized he wasn’t working on a cure like he told you. Even though you have the beta virus yourself. That’s why you killed him, wasn’t it, Regina?”
She stared at me for a long moment and collapsed into tears. Judge Roddick lost no time in clearing the courtroom.
“This case is dismissed,” Judge Roddick intoned stonily. “However, I am imposing a gag order. No one is to speak to the press or anyone else regarding Ms. Farmer’s testimony. The defendant is remanded to custody until he can be transferred to a federal holding facility.”
I’d saved Ed’s life, but lost his freedom. He turned to me.
“I need to speak to you.” The marshals were already bringing the shackles.
“Back off,” I said. “He’s still my client. I promise he’s not going anywhere.” I glared until they retreated.
“I wanted to thank you,” he said more loudly than needed, and clasped my hand. He pulled away, leaving a small object in my palm. “Keep this,” he whispered. “It burrows under the skin. It’s solar-powered, and activated by your brain’s electrical impulses. It will work for you.”
Questions bubbled up through my throat, tangling until none could get out. I had no doubt what it was, the secret of the Jan’i. I finally whispered, “Why?”
“I can’t use it any more. But you might need it. You know things you’re not supposed to.”
“But I’m not going to say anything. They know that.”
“You trust them. But do you trust them to trust you?”
I thought about a government that would try to weaponize Jan’i viruses in secret. I thought about how Ed’s cell had been bugged. I thought of people like Rusty, who tried to get me to throw the case, and the talking heads on TV who weren’t even sure I was human, and the protestors outside my house, who wanted to teach me to stand with my own kind. Who did I piss off to get this job? Everybody.
The judge wasn’t going to be able to keep this secret. Soon people were going to start asking questions about why Regina had killed her father. Questions would lead to speculation, speculation would lead to rumors, and we’d already seen what rumors could lead to, fifteen years ago.
Although Ed’s gift felt like a loaded gun in my hand, I slipped it into an inside pocket.
“I’d better go talk to the prosecutor about your transfer. I’ll try to see you later.”
And I let them take him away.
By Mur Lafferty
It can’t be easy to be a defense attorney. In a lot of cases, people are tried by the court of public opinion, which usually causes defense attorneys to be seen as Bad People who work to keep dangerous people on our streets. But everyone gets a fair shake in the legal system. (I know, I know, that’s a perfect world.)
While reading this, I was wondering what was going to happen to our protagonist, considering no matter the verdict, his life would be hell from now on. I had forgotten there was a shapeshifting gun hung over the fireplace in act 1. So now my head canon has this story being an opening to a longer work, about a shapeshifting lawyer and his “Enemy Mine” partner who’s in jail. They fight crime.
Does anyone else remember Enemy Mine? Or was that just my fever dream from having little else to do growing up than watch movies on HBO over and over?
About the Author
Brian K. Lowe lives in Los Angeles with his wife of many years. He is a graduate of the UCLA creative writing program and the Taos Toolbox master class. He has 50 publications, including his time-travel trilogy, The Stole Future, available from Digital Science Fiction.
About the Narrator
After years of performing in theatre and online radio productions, Roderick Aust is applying his talents to the realm of audio books.
He started his journey in voice work in the US Air Force where he was a popular military broadcaster for American Forces Network in Europe. During the five years he served his country he wrote, edited, and voiced several radio commercials, news reports, and television segments. After that time he came home to Houston, Texas and continued to work in many areas of radio, TV, film, and stage. He has performed in plays across Houston, voiced characters, and also directed several old radio plays for irlonestar.com. Currently he can be found online reciting Shakespearean quotations with his friends on Zoom Shakespeare!
He loves this work and looks forward to any chance he gets to record a new story.