Courting Danger. Carol Stephenson
with all his faults, as well, like a generational doppelgänger.
“I never expected to see a Rochelle dare to appear in my chambers again.” Winewski’s legendary sonorous voice boomed to the courtroom’s farthest corners.
What was this? Sweep-out-Katherine-Rochelle’s-dirty-linen-closet day? No doubt the family scandal was about to be rerun.
I straightened my shoulders and managed a cool smile. “Nice to meet you, Judge.”
“We’ll see about that, Ms. Rochelle.” The man who once had bounced my mother on his knee wagged his finger as if I was a recalcitrant child.
“Unlike your grandfather, I run a tight courtroom and tolerate no improprieties.”
His implication was clear. My grandfather had been a crooked judge. The cold flame of injustice replaced the nerves churning in my stomach. I had paid enough for my family’s sins and my own stupid mistakes. No one was going to make me turn tail.
“I don’t intend to commit any.” Keeping my eyes locked on the judge’s as he plopped into his seat, I experienced a small victory. The judge looked away first.
“Call the first case,” he ordered.
Everyone sat and the court fell into a rhythm of defendants and their lawyers presenting their cases.
I flipped opened the client’s folder and studied the charging affidavit. Simone Jean-Charles. A thirty-year-old Haitian immigrant with four children to support on her housekeeping earnings. The divorce settlement obligated her ex-husband to pay the car-insurance premiums for one year. Of course, he hadn’t and when Simone had been stopped for a busted taillight six months ago, she’d been ticketed for expired insurance. Then the ex had promised to take care of the ticket. Of course, he hadn’t and her license had been suspended.
Simone’s bad luck continued when she had been stopped by an Officer Pitt because her car resembled one involved in a jewelry store robbery. He had checked her license and charged her for driving with a suspended license. A misdemeanor but my client needed to drive to keep her job. Although I was working on straightening out the insurance mess, a conviction on the latest charge could be economically devastating.
I glanced at the police report and compared the entry to the arresting affidavit. I smiled. Glancing up, I spotted Simone entering the room. I gathered my briefcase, rose and crossed to the center aisle, preparing to take my place by her side when her name was called.
The current on-deck attorney was pleading his case. Judge Winewski rapped his gavel. “Denied. This man’s driving license is suspended.” The attorney shrugged and turned to his client.
“You can’t do this!” his client yelled. “I’ll lose my job.”
His counsel tried to calm him, but the man cursed a blue streak, drew back his arm and landed a direct blow to the attorney’s nose. Blood spurted as the lawyer fell backward.
“Bailiff,” the judge called out, but the guard, sitting in a chair too tight for his girth, could barely lumber to his feet.
As if on cue, everyone raced for the exits, including the judge.
Self-preservation warred with the ingrained Rochelle family code of conduct, but since the wounded lawyer kept yelling at the top of his lungs, I knelt beside the attorney trying to silence him.
Mistake. Berserko’s fingers gouged my shoulder. He locked his arm tight around my neck, dragging me to my feet. Not an easy task as I’m five-eight and had four-inch heels on.
“We’re going out that door, girlie.” Berserko’s breath stank of booze, garlic and desperation.
No, we weren’t. He had picked the wrong woman on the wrong day. I faked a stumble, twisted and whacked him over the head with my briefcase.
Berserko shrieked in pain but he wasn’t down.
I spun and jammed my Jimmy Choo stiletto heel into the man’s groin. White-faced, the man dropped like a stone to the floor, writhing in agony.
“Would someone like to arrest this man?” I called out. “I’d like to get on with my hearing.”
The judge’s door cracked open. The bailiff scrambled up and rushed over to cuff the prisoner. Winewski ventured out, his incredulous gaze darting from the prisoner to me.
I tugged the corners of my fitted jacket. “Judge, I believe next on your docket is the case of the State versus Simone Jean-Charles. If the Assistant State Attorney can be located…” I lifted a brow.
“Feinstein, get in here!” the judge bellowed.
The hall door creaked and moments later Leo stood behind the opposite table, but he kept casting a nervous glance at Berserko being escorted outside.
“Mr. Feinstein, if you can quit worrying about your hide and focus on the matter of Simone Jean-Charles, we might finish before lunch.”
“Judge, I have an ore tenus motion to suppress,” I said.
“The excitement going to your head, Ms. Rochelle?”
“No, Your Honor. If you would look at State’s Exhibits One and Two, the arresting officer’s affidavit and police report.”
Leo, his face flushed as he struggled with his file, snapped, “Which exhibits?”
“One and Two. Get with the program, Counselor.” The judge shuffled a few papers. “I have the exhibits. Proceed, Ms. Rochelle.”
“The probable cause basis for the traffic stop of my client was information Officer Pitt received when he called in her tag number that her car was connected to a robbery.”
“So? That’s a textbook stop.”
“Compare the number the officer called in and the number on his report. He transposed the last numbers.”
“Eh?” The judge’s brows drew together.
“The officer stopped the wrong car for the wrong cause, Judge. Anything he found is the result of an illegal search. The charges should be dismissed.”
“Any response, Mr. Feinstein?”
Leo’s mouth opened and closed.
“Thought so. Defendant’s motion is granted. The charges are dismissed. Next case.”
Oh yeah, I felt like doing a happy dance, but instead I whispered to Simone that everything was going to be okay. I sauntered across the courtroom out into the hall. The moment the door swung closed behind me, I pumped my fist in the air. “Yes!”
I was back.
An hour later I squealed my gold-colored Jaguar to a stop behind the shell-pink stucco one-story building that housed the Law Offices of Dent, Rochelle and Sterling. I entered through the back door into the warren of offices and cubicles that was the heart of our operations. I paused, absorbing the dull clatter of keyboard keys and low voices on phones.
Not for the first time, pride burned in me. This was ours. This law firm represented the hopes, dreams and wills of three women who had formed a bond in the early days of law school. I would do my part to hold up my end. I wouldn’t let my friends down.
After walking down the abbreviated hall, I entered the second office on the right, dropping both my purse and briefcase on my desk. As I sat with relief, I noticed a telephone message propped against the phone and grimaced. Big, bold letters, words underlined.
“Great. Perfect morning so far.”
“Talking to yourself?” Carling Dent, her sharp elfin features split by a wide grin, asked as she entered. Because she was dipping a tea bag in her mug, her normal bounce was more like a flounce.
I motioned for her to close the door. Halfway across the room she stopped and stared.
“What happened to you? Since